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Class of 2020, We See You During COVID-19

There’s something incredibly affirming about being seen and recognized for hard work. For high school and college seniors, they’ve been waiting for that moment when, traditionally in May, they would walk a platform, and all their family, friends, and peers would watch them receive their diplomas.

This May, however, COVID-19 is stealing that moment from the senior class of 2020. It stole prom, senior week, and so many other once-in-a-lifetime moments that they’d watched prior graduating classes experience. Many feel cheated, upset, or let-down, and no one can fault them for feeling that way. They should absolutely acknowledge the disappointment but refuse to let it keep them down.

Today’s post is for you, the Class of 2020.

Anticipate your moment.

That moment may not involve you crossing a literal stage, perhaps the most electrifying part of the traditional graduation ceremony. However, I challenge you to still anticipate your moment.

But how, you ask? Recently, I shared a post on my experience celebrating my first anniversary at home. It wasn’t what we had expected or wanted, but my husband and I weren’t going to let the day pass without a celebration.

You can also celebrate non-traditionally. Maybe you can plan a social-distancing-safe outdoor party with family and close friends. Maybe you can organize a caravan parade of you and your classmates, with cars decorated, driving down your streets. Maybe you can invent a virtual party or even a delayed celebration once your state reopens.

I know this situation is not what you expected, but you can make the most of your moment. Decide what’s special and doable, and go for it!

Choose what you do with this time.

Have you read or watched Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien? One of my favorite quotes from this saga is a conversation between Frodo and Gandalf discussing the growing evil they must confront.

“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo.

So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

Timely, right? I don’t blame you seniors for wishing a worldwide pandemic hadn’t struck and ruined your senior-year celebrations. None of us wanted this to happen now or ever.

Although we can’t control what happens to us, we can decide what to do with it. @kjhogrefe

Deciding what to do is a personal choice each of us, high school senior or not, must make. Understand you’re not alone in dealing with wrecked plans. Couples have had to cancel wedding ceremonies. Carefully made travel plans have been thrown out the window. Even the Olympics has been postponed a full year. We all feel you!

But we can’t change anything by wishing it away. So what do we do? What can you, the Class of 2020, do with this time?

Scripture speaks to this very question. Let’s take a look at James 4:13-15:

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit”; whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that.” (NKJV)

Let’s break down those ideas and apply them to our situation. Last January, we were all making plans. You were making plans to graduate, maybe deciding what college you would attend next fall. But the truth is, we didn’t know March was going to put a pandemic at our doorsteps.

How should we proceed? We shouldn’t sit around aimlessly. Instead, we should make plans but hold them loosely, not tightly. Whatever good opportunity God presents us to do today, we should do it, and trust Him for tomorrow.

My hope is that you graduates prayerfully ask God what the next right thing is for you to do.

Focus on making a difference.

I remember my own high school graduation. As far as ceremonies go, it wasn’t anything grand. My homeschool class was a total of three (my twin brother and one other student in our umbrella school).

My grades were the highest of all three, but our overseer decided that being valedictorian would benefit the other male student more than me. He probably figured I’d just be a housewife someday and didn’t need the title on my resume. (For the record, there is no such thing as “just” a housewife. Being a wife and mom is such an important role, whether or not a woman also has a career outside the home. But I digress.)

Obviously, I was disappointed at the time, as were my parents, but today, I’m not going to go all Captain Marvel about it. I couldn’t control that I wasn’t valedictorian, and honestly, being slighted at my graduation doesn’t bother me today. The fact is that I got to choose what I did with the intellect God gave me. By his grace, I graduated college Summa Cum Laude, have published six books, have had the opportunity to speak to crowds much larger than those present during my high school graduation, and have the privilege of teaching English to my online students. And yes, I’m also proud to be a wife to the amazing man God brought into my life.

I say all that to say this: You can’t change the reality that you may not have a traditional graduation or enjoy all the regular pomp and circumstance. But you can decide what you’re going to do next with the abilities and opportunities God gives you. Class of 2020, how will you make a difference?

~ Kristen

Class of 2020, we see you during COVID-19. The disappointment of missing out on your pomp and circumstance is real, but refuse to let it keep you down. By @kjhogrefe

I’m honored that this post first appeared on DailyPS.com.

The Marriage Ark: Review & Giveaway!

Are you single seeking a relationship, dating, engaged, or married? If you fall into any of those categories, The Marriage Ark is relevant for you. Author Margaret Phillips, a licensed marriage and family therapist, uses Noah’s ark as a metaphor for building a marriage that will last.

The preparation, choosing a foundation to build, applies to any reader, single or someone with a significant other. She makes the case that before we can do anything else to ensure a strong, healthy relationship, we must first examine ourselves. She says, “When I think of preparing the ground for marriage-the building site-I find the site is YOU. Yes, you and the heart you bring. You, consisting of body, soul, and spirit. Marriage starts where YOU are.”

I couldn’t agree more. When I was single, I had a Sunday school class teacher once tell me, “In order to find the right person, you have to BE the right person.” In other words, are you personally ready for a relationship? For example, have you forgiven anyone who has wronged you, dealt with any “secrets” in your past, and addressed any sins or addictions in your life that could damage a relationship? Phillips includes a personal inventory checklist to help readers survey the “land” where they plan to build a relationship. These questions are poignant and so very important to ask BEFORE the ceremony.

As with a relationship, there are stages. Preparation is the first, and then Phillips extends the metaphor to the other phases of building the ark. She talks about the “Pitch” or the covenants, vows, and commitments that will hold a marriage together. From there, she discusses the building tools or your family background, the nuts and bolts of communication and conflict, an honest look at intimacy, differences between the sexes, and more.

The length of the book is also achievable for those who love reading and those who don’t. Something my Sunday school class laughs about is that, more often than not, one partner loves reading resources to help their marriage while the other views reading as torture. At just over 100 pages, broken down into nine chapters, this book won’t overwhelm the partner who doesn’t find reading enjoyable so both partners can appreciate it.

Enter to Win Your Copy

I’m grateful to the Blog About Blogger Network for hosting this giveaway and providing the opportunity for me to give away one hardback copy of The Marriage Ark.

To enter, you can do several things:

  1. Comment on this post and share why you think this book would be an encouragement to you or someone you know.
  2. Share the tweet below on Twitter.
  3. Share the related Facebook post on my author page. Be sure to tag me!
  4. Subscribe to my newsletter to learn about future giveaways and posts that will encourage you in your daily life.
  5. Do more than one to be entered multiple times. The winner will be announced here on the blog next week.

One of my favorite takeaways from this book (and there are so many good ones) is that we are responsible for our actions. No matter what our family background or “blueprint” looked like, whether it was a broken home or a beautiful one, we get to “create a new ark for ourselves as adults,” as Phillips says. I love that idea, because so often, people make excuses for themselves based on what happened to them. But that’s a wrong perspective. The past may have shaped us, but it doesn’t define us.

Husbands and wives, we get to choose how strong our marriage arks will be. With God’s help, they can withstand any storm that comes our way.

~ Kristen

The Marriage Ark: Giveaway & Review by @kjhogrefe! Learn how to secure your marriage no matter what storms come your way.

And the giveaway winner is …

Congratulations to Linda for winning The Marriage Ark giveaway and thank you to everyone who participated!

Writer’s Block: Publishing 101

As writers, we often share a dream: to see our stories in print. In today’s video, we talk about the basics of publishing: some common publishing vocabulary, types of publishing, the reality of rejection, and what you, as a young writer, can be doing today to prepare to perhaps publish one day. As always, there’s a writing activity for you at the end.

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

What can you, as a young writer, be doing today to work toward your publishing dream? Join the conversation on Writer’s Block, a YouTube community for teen writers.

How to Have an Extraordinary First Year of Marriage, Pt. 2

Last time, we saw six choices that can help make our first year of marriage—or any year, for that matter—extraordinary. Today, we’re going to look at six more. Whether we’re engaged, newly married, or married for decades, we can all start today, by God’s grace, to make our marriages the best they can be.

#7: Be interested in what interests your spouse.

James tells me he’s read more books since meeting me than he has in the rest of his lifetime. That’s a credit to him for wanting to care about something that interests me. On the other hand, I’ve gotten into mountain biking because of him and really enjoy off-road biking now.

I’m not saying you have to change your interests because of your spouse. Instead, you should expand them so that you each spend more time with your spouse doing something important to him or her. The impact on your relationship will be the best return you can make on any time investment.

#8: Encourage time apart.

Some couples become so absorbed in each other that they completely lose their identity and their friend groups, which is entirely unhealthy. You are still two people. Even though you have mutual friends and are each other’s favorite person in the world, he needs some time with the guys, and you need girl time. James has been wonderful about encouraging me to take a night out with my friends, and I’ve encouraged him to do the same. We’re both better for it.

#9: Always give more and never keep score.

Try to “out give” each other. This is a challenge I’m striving to practice. It means buying the brand of Fig Newtons he likes (even though I don’t) or putting his favorite chocolate chip cookies in the oven “just because.” It means looking extra special just for him or finding a fun way to surprise him.

Secretly, I suspect James is practicing on me too. The other night, my stomach was upset, and even though we had both gone to bed, he offered to get up and get me some Tums and something to drink. (I didn’t want to get up, and I imagine he didn’t either.) But he did. Because loves cares about upset tummies.

A marriage of two givers is a beautiful thing.

To read the full post, visit Manna for Marriage, the blog of my friend and writer Tami Myer. Special thanks to Tami for inviting me to share on her website!

~ Kristen

How to Have an Extraordinary First Year of Marriage, Pt. 1

Just over a year ago, my husband and I said “I do.” Like most new couples, we received lots of advice, and we welcomed what wisdom others had to share. However, one reoccurring comment troubled me: “The first year of marriage is hard.” Although I understood that we would both have adjustments to make, I didn’t like this “survivalist” mentality. After all, Jesus came so that we could have life “more abundantly” (John 10:10), and surely that concept applied to marriage, part of His design. But what did I know?

Well, I have good news. The first year of marriage doesn’t have to be hard. In fact, it can truly be extraordinary, but both husband and wife are responsible to each other to make it that way.

#1: Agree that you married the right person.

Once you say, “I do,” this one is signed, sealed, and delivered. In God’s eyes, that person is now the “right person” because you made a covenant before Him with this individual. You can’t make the excuse, “I married the wrong person.” The truth is that anyone you marry will disappoint or upset you at one point or another, and that reality doesn’t make him or her the “wrong person.”

In short, remove this excuse from your vocabulary. Resist the temptation to compare your spouse to any other person. It’s not a fair comparison, because you don’t know anyone’s strengths and weaknesses as well as your spouse’s. This person, complete with brokenness and beauty, is God’s plan for your life. Relish that reality and that privilege.

This person, complete with brokenness and beauty, is God’s plan for your life. Relish that reality and that privilege.

#2: Be kind and thoughtful to each other.

This one should be a no-brainer, but if the Apostle Paul felt the need to remind his readers, then more than likely we can use the reminder too. “And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:32 NKJV)

Marriage brings adjustments. You each bring different life experiences and personal habits into the relationship. Instead of expecting the other person to be just like you, embrace the differences. Also, make room for changes.

When we got married, James moved into my house. Realizing what a big change this would be for him, I rearranged and gave away furniture to make room for his. I also practiced saying “our home” instead of “my home” and tried to look for ways to incorporate his things.

Everyone’s situations are different, but during those first early weeks and months, be sensitive and aware of simple ways to make the transition smoother. When in doubt, ask what you can do.

#3: Communicate. Communicate. Communicate.

My husband and I marvel at how much other couples seem to fight. We’re redeemed sinners like every other Christian couple, but we don’t argue or yell at each other. If we disagree, we talk about it. If we’re having a bad day, we’re honest about it. If we mess up, we have to apologize.

I remember having a particularly rough day at work. Coming out of my office, I found James working on his laptop and told him straight: “It’s been a tough day, babe, and I’m pretty upset about it. Just know that it has nothing to do with you.”

Don’t make your spouse guess if you’re upset with him or not. Be transparent. Once James knew how I was feeling, he was able to lovingly support me through my emotions instead of wondering if he were somehow responsible for them.

To read the full post, visit Manna for Marriage, the blog of my friend Tami Myer, a gifted writer and marriage mentor. I’m honored to be sharing this two-part series with her readers and you.

Next time, we’ll look at more choices couples can make to get their marriage off to a great start. For now, which of these ideas is most helpful to where you are right now?

~ Kristen

How to Have an Extraordinary First Year of Marriage by @kjhogrefe on @Manna4Marriage

How to Celebrate, Social-Distance Style

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

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

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

#1: Acknowledge Your Feelings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#3. Remember Good Times and God’s Goodness

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

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

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

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

#4: Plan a Sequel

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

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

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

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

~ Kristen

How to Celebrate, Social-Distance Style by @kjhogrefe

4 Core Strengths in Marriage, Pt. 2

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

Post by Tami Myer

3. Commitment

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

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

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

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

4. Kindness

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

Short answer: no. Long answer: never.

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

But God says:

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

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

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

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

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

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

4 Core Strengths in Marriage by @manna4marriage on @kjhogrefe

4 Core Strengths in Marriage, Pt. 1

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

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

By Tami Myer

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

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

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

1. Honor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. Attentiveness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4 Core Strengths in Marriage by @manna4marriage on @kjhogrefe

Writer’s Block: The Basics of Plot Structure

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

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

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

When Was Your Last Spiritual Spring Cleaning?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Am I faithful in prayer and truly trusting God?

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

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

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

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

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

Do I thank God whether He gives or takes away?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Closing Prayer

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

~ Kristen

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