Sunday, August 28, 2016

The Inner Views of Lindsay Huggins

"For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek."
Roman 1:16
(KJV)

A few years ago, I was introduced to the music of the dear young lady I am interviewing today.
Soon, we connected online, and a sweet friendship was formed.
How blessed I was when later God orchestrated a way for my family and me to meet her in person while in Myrtle Beach where she was scheduled to perform!
God has gifted her with an amazing talent to sing
and an accompanying joyful, humble, Christlike spirit. 
I know you are going to love getting to know her, and I hope you can take the time to 
listen to a few of her songs included below.
You will be abundantly blessed!


So thankful to present to you the 
of
Follower of Jesus, Wife, Mom, Friend, Worship Leader, and Christian Recording Artist,
Lindsay Huggins.

Cheryl:  Please tell us about yourself. 

Lindsay:  I grew up in a small town - Sandersville, Georgia. My younger sister and I were blessed with wonderful loving and hard-working parents, who have modeled lives of character before us. My family was very involved in church and music, which went hand in hand. After graduating from high school, I moved to Nashville, TN, to attend Trevecca Nazarene University, where I earned a bachelor’s degree in Music Business. I traveled in a singing group for TNU, along with this cute sweetheart of a guy named Craig. He also happened to be our sound tech and was good at his job, so I decided to keep him! We were married on April 8, 2006 in my hometown. In 2012, our son Tanner was born and we make our home just outside of Nashville.

Cheryl:  Can you share with us about your Christian testimony? When did you become a Christian? Were you raised in a Christian home? What drew you to Christ?

Lindsay:  I was raised in a Christian home, and we were faithful church members. It seemed we were there all the time, which I loved. My best friends were my church friends. From a very young age, I remember learning God’s Word. But it wasn’t until I was 13 years old that I really remember inviting Jesus in my heart. I was trying to fall asleep that night and the Lord was speaking to me. I was listening to a CD of one of my favorite artists at the time (this was how I fell asleep every night), and I made it all the way to the end, still wide awake. That last song talked about not missing the opportunity to respond to the Holy Spirit because we never know if today will be our last. I got up and woke up my Mama, and she came into the living room with me. We prayed and read scripture together, and that’s the night I truly invited Jesus into my heart.

Cheryl:  What a sweet and precious testimony, Lindsay!  What was your biggest, most cherished childhood dream? What did you most hope to accomplish in life? Who did you want to become?

Lindsay:  As cliche as it sounds, my dream has always been to sing! The dream has looked different during various seasons of my life, but I knew that’s what I wanted to do. My Mama will tell you, I could turn anything into a microphone. Hairbrush, fork, my thumb - you name it! And my sister would get so annoyed at me always singing. I loved Reba McEntire. Every Sunday, our family would gather at my Granny and Granddaddy’s house for dinner after church. Granny would make a big meal and after dinner, everyone would move into the living room. My sister and I would then perform a dinner show. We stood on footstools, sang into old microphones that had been discarded by our church, and performed a full show of Reba songs using her cassette as our band. Too bad we didn’t have cell phone cameras at our fingertips then. I bet the videos would be a hoot! I went on to work for Reba after college, and she’s still one of my favorites!

Cheryl:  Who is your most influential spiritual mentor?

Lindsay:  Well, of course I have to say my Mama. She’s been my mentor from day one, and still encourages me, prays for me, and spurs me on in faith.

Cheryl:  I love your song, “Praying Women”. Can you tell us about the most prominent praying women in your life?


If video doesn't load, click here.

Lindsay:  This song is definitely true about my Mama. My Granny has also modeled a strong faith, and there are so many women who have guided me, and prayed with and for me over the years - Sunday School teachers, youth leaders, school teachers. I’m very thankful for my pastor’s wife, Karan.

Cheryl:  How old were you when you began singing? Please share with us about your singing experiences and career.

Lindsay:  I’m sure as soon as someone would let me on the platform I was singing in the kids music programs at church. My first distinct memory of performing is when I was around five years old. I entered a children’s talent competition sponsored by our district church. I sang “What Makes Popcorn Pop” that Lauren Talley had recorded. (I had all her cassettes.) I won that day, and remember taking my trophy to kindergarten Show-and-Tell. :)

Cheryl:  Describe what you would define as the most exciting happening in your music ministry thus far.

Lindsay:  I’ve had lots of exciting singing opportunities - singing on main stage at National Quartet Convention, sharing the stage with some of top names in Gospel music, etc. But the most rewarding moments come when I know God has used my music and the talent He gave me to speak to someone’s heart.

Cheryl:  How many concerts do you perform each year?

Lindsay:  I’m never good at answering this question! I’d literally have to pull out the calendar and count all the dates. I’m always seeking and accepting opportunities to minister. I’d say on average, I’m on the road about three weekends a month.

Cheryl:  Of all of the songs you have recorded and sung, what is your personal favorite?

Lindsay:  Right now, I’d say there are two - "Praying Women" and "Nothing He Can't Redeem".



If video doesn't load, click here.

Cheryl:  What would you say is your driving force? What keeps you going on days that you are worn out and wondering how you will continue to keep up the pace?

Lindsay:  What’s the quote? “Do what you love, and you’ll never work a day in your life.” Well, I wouldn’t say that’s 100% accurate because there’s quite a bit of work to be done! But I do love getting to sing and travel and share the Good News through the gift of music. I love meeting folks out on the road and hearing their stories. And I love that I can do this together with my family.

Cheryl:  Being a wife and a mother, how do you find balance? What would you say is your biggest challenge when trying to fill so many roles, simultaneously? What advice can you offer to others in similar circumstances?

Lindsay:  Umm…maybe you should get someone else to answer this question and then send their answer to me! :) Seriously, though, it is tough. There are so many standards we try to live up to - as a woman, as a wife, as a parent, as a minister, as a performer. It can be draining. One thing I’m trying to embrace is being fully present in my current situation. And remembering that my first job is to love God and my family well. And my witness and ministry to others will overflow from that.

Cheryl:  What is your favorite thing to do when you are off the road? What do you most look forward to doing when you get back home? What do you miss the most while you are gone?

Lindsay:  I guess I’d say I mostly miss the familiarity of home when I’m on the road. And sometimes our dog Chloe can’t travel with us, so we miss her when we have to leave her behind. But I’ve never been a home body. I love to travel, so I don’t get too homesick when I’m away, unless my husband and son can’t be with me.

Cheryl:  Can you share with us about one of the darkest times of your life? How did your faith in God sustain you?

Lindsay:  We had quite a difficult journey to becoming parents. It didn’t come easy for us, and this struggle is one that so many couples face, but yet not many openly talk about it. We felt pretty alone during this time. Myself probably more than my husband. It seemed all our friends were having babies. Some were on their second or third, and we were still hoping. We finally got that good news and two weeks later I started hemorrhaging. I knew that I must be losing the baby. I hadn’t even been in for my first doctor’s appointment but I called and spoke to the nurse. I was a basket case, but I remember her saying “I need you to just have a little faith.” Honestly I wasn’t sure how to take that comment. I mean, of course I had faith! Right? The issue continued for two weeks without explanation. But from that first very early appointment where we heard that little heartbeat, we had to hold on to our Hope, knowing that God was in control no matter what. Our perfect baby was born in March 2012, and he is ALL BOY. Even as I’m typing this, he’s pretending to be superheroes, running around my desk.

Cheryl:  As Christians, we are living in very discouraging times. What do you personally do to stay encouraged? What are your favorite Bible verses? Are there any particular books, hymns, or other resources that you turn to for strength and courage?

Lindsay:  There are so many sources of media that it seems we are constantly bombarded with the bad stuff. But we can also use all the media at our fingertips for sources of good news, too. I have a Bible app on my phone, it suggests daily readings. I also enjoy the “Jesus Calling” devotional. And of course, music is my go-to! When I was afraid we were losing our baby, I sang “Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus” a lot! Some days I was celebrating the comfort I found in trusting Him. Some days I was convincing myself that I had to trust Him. But always praying “oh for grace to trust Him more”.

Cheryl:  How can we pray for you? Are there any particular requests you would like us to share and bring to the Father on your behalf?

Lindsay:  Thank you for offering your prayers on my behalf! I’d ask that you pray for wisdom and guidance, safety in travel, and a purity in my ministry, that I wouldn’t be distracted by the unnecessary things or swayed by the desires of the world.

Such noble requests, Lindsay!
Thank you SO MUCH for taking the time to share your heart with us today!
You are such a dear blessing, and I trust God will continue to bless you,
your sweet family, and your ministry. 
May He always work in and through your life in new and amazing ways!

Please keep Lindsay in your prayers, dear readers,
and if you have a moment, please stop by her website,
where you can buy her CDs and learn more about her music.

Make sure to have tissues handy before watching the video below!



If video doesn't load, click here.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

God Doesn't Lead Backwards

"For the Lord GOD will help me; therefore shall I not be confounded: 
therefore have I set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be ashamed."
Isaiah 50:7
(KJV)


There is a great measure of peace to be found in the center of God's perfect will.
Even though storms rage and the world around continues to speed by at a rat-race, frenzied pace,
peace that surpasses the understanding of those looking on provides a sweet serenity and a precious and highly longed-for sense of calm.

Sometimes, it takes a while to reach this point.
There is so much in this life to muddle through in order to get here.
But, once here, it seems that the journey behind, however harried and difficult it has been,
was well worth the trek.

Such is life for us now.

It was not always this way.
As I look back upon those days, 
I find myself feeling the torment of it all, and it is like I am transported backwards...
to a place of bondage, unrest, and a dreaded, sickeningly familiar feeling of a certain enveloping hopelessness, despair, and an overwhelming fear of there being no way out.

It is then that the dear Lord reminds me that I am not to look back.
That we are not there anymore.
That He has set us free and wrought a great deliverance in our lives by His mighty hand.

Luke 17:32 contains a three word sobering admonition, spoken by our Lord.
It simply says,
"Remember Lot's wife."

Seems like the shortest Bible verses can sometimes pack the most powerful punch.

What is the most memorable thing you know to even remember about Lot's wife?
Truly, what is about the only thing you really know about her?

Is it not that she looked back?
After being forewarned by God-sent angels in Genesis 19:17 not to look back,
she chose to turn around and gaze upon the place that God had called her from,
and, by doing this, she was literally frozen in time and space.
She never moved forward from that spot,
and that seemingly small and insignificant act of disobedience cost her her life.

Looking back is not conducive to progress.
Looking back not only slows down, but it prevents progress.
Looking back will leave us frozen in time and space.
Just like Lot's wife.

When God has given specific instructions to move forward,
it is imperative that, no matter how difficult it is to do,
we are obedient.

One day, Jesus and His disciples came to a certain village.
As they walked along, Jesus called two men to follow Him.
Both of them began making excuses for not being able to immediately forsake all to become His disciple.
When Jesus perceived their hesitation, He said this, 
"No man, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God."
(Luke 9:56-62)

I thought about those two men.
Did it ever occur to them what they had really turned down?
Did they ever think back on that moment,
those penetrating eyes that must have bored into their very souls,
that compelling voice that was asking them to follow Him?
However paramount their excuses seemed at the time,
did they later seem lame and not so important?
They looked back, and because of that, they were stymied and frozen in place and missed out on the highest honor ever offered to man.

Last night, when I was praying, I started thinking about the "great cloud of witnesses"
who have gone before us, those who served Jesus during their time on earth,
who were washed in the blood of the Lamb,
who were faithful to Him until death,
and who are now safe forevermore with Him in Heaven.

It seemed that I could actually sense their presence there, as I was seeking the Lord.
It was if they were cheering me on, letting me know that it is better farther on,
and telling me that if they could make it, so can I.

Then, this morning, during some of my first waking thoughts,
the precious Holy Spirit spoke these words to me.
"Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; 
Who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God."
Hebrews 12:2

I couldn't remember where it was found,
so as soon as I could, I looked it up.
Imagine my surprise when I saw that the verse I was thinking about during prayer last night,
("Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us," Hebrews 12:1),
is the verse that comes right BEFORE the verse the Lord brought to me this morning in prayer!

So, since He had brought verse one to me last night,
and verse two to me this morning,
I also went on to read verse three in this same passage.

"For consider Him that endured such contradiction of sinners against Himself, 
lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds."

As I thought upon these verses, I began to recall a time just a few short months ago that I was to the point of being "wearied" and of "fainting in my mind".

There were some personal issues that we had been praying about and including in our nightly intercessory prayers (that I spoke of in this post) that seemed like immovable mountains in front of us.
We felt like we were backed against a wall.
Like the enemy was right behind us...so close that we could feel his hot breath on the backs of our necks, trying to draw us backwards, trying to pull us back in, doing his utmost to intimidate,
inflict fear, and taunt....
then in front of us, there was what resembled the Red Sea.
Impossible and impassible.

During that time, there were two options for us.
We could look back, turn around, succumb to the enemy, and remain in bondage.
Or, we could hold our ground and believe for the miracle that would have to happen in order for the Red Sea to open in front of us,
allowing us to cross over to the sweet deliverance and victorious freedom waiting on the other side.

I remember how standing there, waiting to see the salvation of the Lord,
we came to understand and realize that
God never leads backwards.
He didn't call His chosen people out of the bondage of Egypt,
only to lead them back into its torment and bondage.
In all of my study of His Word,
in all of my reading of the saints of old,
I cannot recall a time when God ever led anyone backwards.
The souls who make up "the great cloud of witnesses" are where they are
because they pressed forward 
and refused to look back regardless how tough the battle became.
They laid aside the weights and besetting sins, and they ran their race to a victorious finish,
whatever the cost.

No one runs a race backwards.
Races are run by moving forward one step at a time,
putting one foot in front of the other,
and keeping one's face "set like a flint" towards the finish line.

God always leads forward.

There is this spot...in between God's command to launch forward and any apparent evidence of the fruition of our launching, when the waiting becomes agonizing.
It is during this weakened, vulnerable span of time that the enemy tries his utmost to convince us that we have made a mistake,
that it wasn't really God who told us to launch in the first place,
that the road ahead is too long, the waiting is too hard,
and the best thing we could ever do is look back.

It takes a strong determination to keep looking forward while in the waiting room.
Mom used to tell me often that God has His own timetable.
He doesn't operate within the perimeters of our demands.

The other day I read this quote,
"You can't start the next chapter of your life if you keep re-reading the last one."
(I'm sorry I don't know who to credit for the quote, but it is a good one.)
It really hit home when I read it.

It's true.
God has a plan, and it never involves walking backwards...only forward.

Philippians 4:13-14 says,
"Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do,
forgetting those things which are behind,
and reaching forth unto those things which are before,
I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus."

Forgetting the past takes effort.
God wired our brains to remember, not to forget.

Pressing toward the mark requires a reaching forth to those things which are before,
 an intentional pursuit of what is ahead,
and a strong refusal to look back.

God has amazing plans for each one of us.
But, He cannot implement those plans or set them in motion,
as long as we continue to analyze, re-think, and cling tightly to the past.

Another quote I love is this...
"Sometimes we just have to trust what God did and did not allow."
And, to the end of that, I add,
"...and move forward."

During a family vacation, the hotel desk clerk inserted our room keys into this envelope.


In light of how God has been leading my family and me over the past few years,
it really resonated with us.

We will never discover the doors God has for us to open,
if we are in continual backward pursuit of "what was" or contemplating "what might have been".

There are doors that we do not even know exist...
doors that open to a deeper walk with Him...
doors that will lead to the enlargement of our coasts...
doors that will reveal the abundant life He has for us.

How are things with you, my friend?
Do you find yourself looking back so often that it is preventing you from enjoying today?
Does the pull of the past keep you from walking forward into the the bright future God has for you?

Dear friend, I want to encourage you to look ahead,
and keep your eyes on Jesus, as He onward leads.

Let go of yesterday in order to grasp hold of what He has waiting for you.
He loves you so much, and His plans for you are good plans.

Walking with Jesus requires a walk of faith and a continual surrender to His plan, not our own.

God is absolutely faithful to His promises.
Don't allow fear to keep you from looking ahead to what He has prepared for you.

Whatever He is calling you to do,
I encourage you to take the plunge,
and launch out into the deep with Him.
Then wait upon His perfect timing, and no matter how long it takes for your faith to become sight,
don't look back while waiting.

I so love and appreciate every one of you, dear friends.
I can't thank you enough for your faithful support of these devotions
and every kind word you leave in the comments.
Keep encouraged to press the battle forward.
Heaven will surely be worth it all!


If video doesn't load, click here.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

The Inner Views of Serena Smith-Williams

"Ah Lord GOD! behold, Thou hast made the heaven and the earth by Thy great power and stretched out arm, and there is nothing too hard for Thee..."
Jeremiah 32:17
(KJV)

Today, I am so grateful to be able to introduce (to those of you who are not already acquainted)
a blogger who is a special and consistent blessing to me.
Her wonderful blog is chock full of amazing health and fitness information,
easy-to-understand recipes (many of them kid-tested and approved!),
and beautifully-written encouragement, support, and inspiration.
Her sweet spirit and genuine, caring heart shine through in every post she writes.
I know you are going to enjoy getting to know her,
and you will come to love and appreciate her as much as I do!


With joy and gratitude, I present to you the 
of
blessed mommy of 3, wife, blogger, actress, health coach, certified personal trainer, and holistic nutritionist,
Serena Smith-Williams.

Cheryl:  Please tell us about yourself.

Serena:  I was born and raised in New Jersey and still live there.

For the most part, my childhood was fine. Even though I was in and out of the hospital and diagnosed with ulcerative colitis at the age of 9 (then rediagnosed with Crohn's at the age of 15), my mother always made sure my life was as normal as possible. I had supportive friends and family and did quite fine.

Today, I am married (15 years) and have three children.


Cheryl:  When did you become interested in health and fitness? Who most inspired you to begin this journey? Was there a particular life event that influenced you to become more conscious of your health and the health of your family?

Serena:  Having Crohn's disease urged me to want to do something in the healthcare field. And although my diet wasn't the best, I was always pretty active in my youth.

I played basketball in high school and intramural basketball in college. My major was Psychology, and I even thought about doing Sports Psychology at one point. Then once I graduated I became an ACE certified personal trainer and got accepted into a Masters in Athletic Training program. Although I didn't pursue the program, I remained interested in general health and fitness.

The holistic & natural living aspect didn't happen until just 5 years ago when I took a natural health continuing education course to renew my personal training certification. I got hooked, and the rest is history.


Cheryl:  To those who are not familiar with the term, “holistic”, will you define what it means?

Serena:  Holistic refers to the whole person. In other words mind, body, and spirit. Not just fixing the immediate problem, but healing the origin or source of the problem. For example, if you're experiencing headaches - explore natural remedies (because traditional ones can wreak havoc on your body and cause other problems) to take care of the pain you are having as well as exploring different methods (like stress management, for example) to fix the cause of the headaches.

Cheryl:  Tell us about your blog. What do you most hope to accomplish through it, and what life events first inspired you to begin blogging? How has blogging impacted and enriched your life?

Serena:  I blog over at Simple Holistic Girl. I originally started it to share my experience with Crohn's and my slowly, (at the time), creeping up blood pressure. It soon turned into sharing healthy and natural living tips, natural remedies, workouts, healthy recipes, and more. I also use it as a platform to educate people on popular topics such as ingesting essential oils (being safe) and the process of how our cosmetics end up on the shelves (for example, no FDA approval like some people think).

I have met sooooo many wonderful people, including you, Cheryl, through blogging, and that, in itself, has positively impacted my life!


Cheryl:  Thank you ever so much, Serena!  I count it a Godsent blessing that I have met you, too!  Can you tell us what you are most passionate about?

Serena:  My main passion is arming people with the tools & knowledge to make their own decisions on how to be healthy, since healthy is not the same to everyone. Also, helping people understand that the same solution (even if it is based on research) will NOT work for everyone.

Cheryl:  When did you become a Christian? Who do you consider to be your strongest spiritual mentor? Is there a particular person who has prayed for you most and influenced you in your walk with Christ?

Serena:  I have been in church all my life, but became a Christian when I was a teenager. I would have to say my former youth leaders, who are now pastors at the church we attend, are my strongest spiritual mentors.

One person that has prayed for me the most? Oh, that is most definitely my mother!


Cheryl:  As a Christian wife and mother in these troubled times, what do you consider to be some of our greatest challenges? How do you, personally, rise to the occasion of these challenges?

Serena:  Oh boy....the greatest challenge during these troubled times I think is keeping your faith. And that's not just in God, but in people, mankind, the universe, you name it.

I rise to the occasion by trying to be a little nicer to people (which sometimes can be easier said than done) and appreciate the little things like that warm smile from your neighbor or a friendly encounter with a total stranger, because after these things happen you realize nice people really DO exist in this world!


Cheryl:  What is the most important thing(s) we should be teaching our children?

Serena:  Love and respect to ALL - even if it means you don't get it back.

Cheryl:  How do you balance your home duties as a wife and mother with the demands of your work schedule and blog?

Serena:  I actually do not know....hahaha. It just works out. I only really share a new post once a week on my blog right now because I recognized doing more was way too demanding. I also get to work from home so those days give me an extra two hours put back in my day from not commuting.

I also try not to be on the computer as much as I used to be if everyone is home...keyword is "try"...lol.


Cheryl:  We would love to hear about your love story. How did you meet your husband? What is your favorite part of walking through life with him? What is the best marital advice you have ever been given?

Serena:  My husband and I went to the same college. My favorite part of walking through life with him is being with our kids and getting involved more and more in the church.

The best marital advice we have gotten is communication is key, and pray together.


Cheryl:  To the reader who is struggling to lose weight, what advice can you offer? Where should we start? What are some of the most important things we can do to jumpstart a weight loss journey?

Serena:  I think people think too hard when it comes to weight loss, when in reality you can start with simple changes. Simple changes over time will lead to big changes.

For example, I have a blog post entitled: 9 Ways to Lose Weight Without Trying Too Hard (http://www.simpleholisticgirl.com/9-ways-to-lose-weight-without-trying-too-hard/)

Those 9 things are: 1) walking, 2) eating more color (meaning colorful fruits & vegetables), 3) drinking more water, 4) keeping a food diary, 5) taking your sauces on the side, 6) limiting your alcohol intake (it contains a lot of calories), 7) choosing beverages (other than water) wisely, 8) choosing your fats wisely, and 9) getting enough sleep.


Cheryl:  What do you consider to be the most effective form(s) of physical exercise? For someone who is severely weight-challenged, can you offer some doable, obtainable steps that would enable them to feel they are making a good start?

Serena:  I think the most effective form of physical exercise is the type that will keep you motivated. I can sit here and say a few different kinds are effective forms of physical exercise, but that doesn't mean that it will have the same effect on everybody. Since everybody is different you need to find the exercise that is easy enough for you to stick with, but hard enough to challenge you, and most of all produces results so you'll continue to be motivated.

I think the best form of exercise to start with, even for those that are severely weight-challenged is walking. Walking is an activity of daily living and will build up your stamina and endurance the more you keep at it. Even if you cannot physically walk fast it makes a good start and you can slowly build up over time. You can eventually even turn it into a jog and even a run and the best thing about walking is, it's free.


Cheryl:  Obesity is often accompanied by severe depression and feelings of hopelessness. If you were sitting across the table, having coffee with someone in this dark place, what would you say to them?

Serena:  First, make sure that your severe depression doesn't warrant outside help. It is important to recognize when you need additional support so that it doesn't turn into something more. Having the proper tools in place will also help you reach your goals.

Once you put those steps/tools in place, then I would suggest you start keeping a journal/diary.

In that journal I suggest you write down your daily activities, including things like, what you eat, how you felt before and after you ate, what time you ate, how much sleep you got, your emotions for the day, your daily stressors, what were you doing before grabbing that bag of chips, etc. This way you can start to see how one thing connects to another. Perhaps you will figure out that you need to cut a certain individual out of your life. Or perhaps you'll realize you need to change jobs or maybe that one food item causes you to feel sick.


Cheryl:  When working as a health coach, what have you found to be your most effective tools in motivating someone to start a weight loss and fitness journey?

Serena:  Helping them find their "why". Everyone's reason and motivation will be different on starting a weight loss journey so it's up to the individual (not me) to find their own motivation and reason to succeed. The journey and destination is ultimately theirs, I just help them get started heading in the right direction.

Cheryl:  To the reader who has tried multiple weight loss tactics, only to repeatedly fail, what would you like to say?

Serena:  Write down everything you have tried, and then figure out what you need to do differently. If you have been doing the same thing over and over again, guess what? Chances are it's not going to work the 4th and 5th time you try it either.

And if you have been trying different methods already, then you need to evaluate why they are not working. Are they pills you're trying to take to make the weight "magically" disappear? Are you excessively exercising, but not changing your diet? Did it work for your friend/spouse/sister/cousin, so you figured it would work for you, too?

Go back to the basics and practice small changes first, like the ones I mentioned above.  (
1) walking, 2) eating more color (meaning colorful fruits & vegetables), 3) drinking more water, 4) keeping a food diary, 5) taking your sauces on the side, 6) limiting your alcohol intake (it contains a lot of calories), 7) choosing beverages (other than water) wisely, 8) choosing your fats wisely, and 9) getting enough sleep.)

Cheryl:  There are many things about your blog that I love, one of them being the way you develop recipes that are kid-tested and approved. How do you come up with the recipes on your blog? How do you convince your kids to try them?

Serena:  I simply think about what we love to eat and go from there. I will sometimes even just peruse certain sections of the grocery store, like the produce section, and think of things I can do with a certain food item. Instagram also serves as a source of inspiration.

My kids are more apt to try new recipes if it's in a form they are already familiar with, like cookies, brownies, and pancakes. I sometimes will even ask them what they want me to make and go from there.


Cheryl:  What are your favorite Bible verses, hymns, books, and other resources to turn to in times of discouragement?

Serena:  After starting my blog, I wanted to use a special verse and came up with Genesis 1:29 - Then God said, "I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole Earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food." It's not the only verse in the Bible that has to do with food, of course, but it's one that I have grown to love regarding food.

It's so easy to find resources to turn to in times of discouragement, especially with technology and social media. I use the YouVersion Bible App. You can find Bible lesson plans for certain topics, and it delivers a verse of the day right to your inbox if you choose. And their Instagram account posts Bible verses using the most beautiful pictures!

My other go to social media accounts for encouragement are Proverbs 31 Ministries, Women Living Well, and Thrive Moms.


Cheryl:  Looking back over your life, will you share a time of intense trial that you have walked through? How did your faith in God sustain you during those difficult days?

Serena:  I will have to say when my Crohn's disease flared up. Those were some trying times. The pain could be so unbearable, I wondered if I would ever pull through, but then I remembered God pulled me through all the other times, so why would He fail me now?

Cheryl:  At the end of your life, what legacy would you most like to leave behind?

Serena:  I would love for people to remember me for my spunkiness 😀, yet kindness and love.

Cheryl:  How can we pray for you in this current season?

Serena:  A prayer for my finances, marriage, business, and family. Both to have success and a hedge of protection around everyone and everything.

I am so grateful to you, Serena, for taking the time to visit with us,
to share your heart, and to answer our questions in such a helpful, supportive way!
I have enjoyed this interview so much and thank you from the bottom of my heart!
My prayer is that God will honor your request and send abundant blessings
and continual protection to you and your sweet family.

And, thank you, dear readers, for reading and for adding Serena and her family to your
individual prayer lists.

I hope you will take the time to go by and visit Serena's blog, leave her an encouraging comment,
 and consider becoming a follower/subscriber!
And, for all of you who are health-conscious,
she is offering a 14 Day Smoothie Challenge that you may be interested in participating in!
I just joined and can't wait to get the daily recipes!
Thank you again, Serena.
You are a blessing to us all, my friend!

To read previous
click the links below.


Sunday, August 14, 2016

Does Your Heart Still Burn?

"And they said one to another, 
Did not our heart burn within us, while He talked with us by the way, 
and while He opened to us the scriptures?"
Luke 24:32
(KJV)

If ever there is a time in my spiritual experience that I begin to feel dry or a bit distanced from our Lord, I need only to turn to this passage to find my way back.
It touches my soul, deeply moves my spirit, and compellingly beckons me to a deeper, closer walk with Christ.


We have had such a busy summer.
There have been so many days that I have found it so hard to find adequate time to pray...
I mean really pray...the kind of praying I go to such great lengths to defend making time for.
The kind of prayer time that I crave and miss desperately when it doesn't happen.
My "Mary-leaning" heart has such deep yearnings to just go and sit at Jesus' feet, 
never missing a word, but the "necessarily-Martha" part of me has, of late, seldom allowed for it.
It has been a real challenge to maintain the level of communion with God that I am used to and that I long for, during a time of so many surrounding demands and needs that sometimes only I could fill.

Do you know what I mean?

All of us have the same struggle, do we not?

This morning, as Kevin, Zach, and I had our family devotions,
I saw that we were on the 24th chapter of Luke in our regular reading.
Oh, how my heart filled with joy!
THIS, oh, this!
This is what I needed.

As we read, I just began to weep...and I wept...and I wept some more.
The blessings of God...one of those "times of refreshing" spoken about in Acts 3:19,
began to pour down and flood my thirsty, utterly-parched soul.

I could not stop crying as we came to verses 13-32.
Oh, the power in this story!
If you haven't read it lately, I highly recommend it.
If you are walking through a dry season, 
and you find yourself longing for intimacy with Christ, take the time to 
imagine that it is YOU walking along that lonely Emmaus road,
sad, dejected, disappointed beyond words.
Just picture the way your heart would begin to burn if the living Word Himself began walking beside you and verbally opening up the written Word to you, expounding on the very Scriptures that prophesied so accurately of Him and all that would happen in His life.
Pretend, for a moment, that you are one of the two on that road,
and He has walked beside you through much of the 7 to 7 1/2 mile trek from Jerusalem to Emmaus,
and, as you near your destination, He appears to be planning to walk on farther, 
leaving you alone with your walking companion.
As you see Him beginning to walk away, you realize that something remarkably precious is about to come to an end.

Would you not beg Him to stay?
Just like Cleopas and his friend did?

Somehow, they were blinded to the fact that this was really Jesus.
Perhaps their broken, anguished hearts were so void of hope that they could not bring 
themselves to even open their minds to the possibility that He could truly have risen from the dead.
For whatever reason, they did not recognize Him.
But, that did not stop them from pleading with Him to stay,
to come inside, and take a meal.
There was something about Him.
Something so compelling...so constraining....so all-consuming.
So intense.
So what they needed!

As He broke bread, they knew.
And, as soon as they recognized that it was Him,
He vanished out of their sight.

They must have turned to one another in that incredibly charged moment, astonishment on each face, and said those words...
the words that stir the very core of my being each time I read them...
"Did not our heart burn within us, while He talked with us by the way, 
and while He opened to us the scriptures?"

That encounter with Jesus!
That ensuing burning!
That deep stirring that is ignited in the pit of one's soul after coming into contact with Jesus Christ!
There is nothing in this world that will move the hungry-for-God heart to such entire passion for His holiness.
One cannot walk away from such a juncture, without being forever and profoundly changed.

In Acts 4:13, we read,
"Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were unlearned and ignorant men, they marvelled; and they took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus."

There was nothing about Peter and John, of their own resources, that could enable them to exude
such power...such courage...such fearlessness.
The ones who stood around them...the listeners, the observers, the on-lookers..
they knew.
Nothing else could affect a person so.
An encounter...time spent...with Jesus Christ was evident in everything Peter and John did and said.
The burning in their hearts was real and obvious, long after Jesus had ascended to Heaven,
and that burning had completely consumed them and transformed their very lives.

As we wrapped up our morning devotions today,
my heart was full.
I knew...that in those moments of reading about the two who all those years ago were so impacted by Christ on that 7 1/2 mile walk,
He had drawn near...to us, too!
He had sensed our hunger.
Our parched spirits.
Our longing for Him.
And, He had come very close.

"Can we sing?" I asked.

We sometimes do that, during our family devotions, but not always.
Today, I could not keep from it.
The burning was so rekindled.
The fire in my soul so strong!

"Oh, Lord, my God, when I in awesome wonder,
Consider all the worlds Thy hands have made;
I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder,
Thy power throughout the universe displayed.

Then sings my soul, My Savior, God to Thee,
How great Thou art!
How great Thou art!
Then sings my soul, My Savior, God to Thee,
How great Thou art!
How great Thou art!

And, when I think how God, His Son not sparing,
Sent Him to die, I scare can take it in;
That, on the cross, my burden gladly bearing,
He bled and died to take away my sin.

Then sings my soul, My Savior, God to Thee,
How great Thou art!
How great Thou art!
Then sings my soul, My Savior, God to Thee,
How great Thou art!
How great Thou art!"
Written by Carl Gustav Boberg

My voice broke several times, as I could hardly sing through flowing tears.

We take turns praying our opening and closing prayers to begin and end our Bible study time.
Today, it was Kevin's turn to pray the closing prayer.

Zach turned to me.
"Mama, you seem so blessed.
Do you want to be the one to pray?
Daddy, do you mind?"

"No, Zach, of course I don't mind."
Kevin always understands, God bless him.

We all bowed our heads.
My knees hit the floor.
Tears broke forth, and I could hardy pray aloud,
as revival fire burned bright in my soul.

He was here!
He kept His Word.
"For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them."
Matthew 18:20

"Draw nigh to God, and He will draw nigh to you."
James 4:8

"The LORD is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart; and saveth such as be of a contrite spirit."
Psalm 34:18

"Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled."
Matthew 5:6

He is a faithful God, and I have never loved Him more.

How is it with you, dear friend?
Are you hungry for Him?
Do you miss His presence?
Does your heart still burn within you,
or has something dampened the fire?
Are you, like me, finding it difficult to steal away and pray?
Are the demands of life of such degree that your spirit is left dry, neglected, and longing for Him?

He sees your heart.
He longs to meet with you.
He misses His time with you, too.
He bids you to come to Him.

"Come unto Me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
Take My yoke upon you, and learn of Me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.
For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light."
Matthew 11:28-30

My prayer for you is that you find a time and place...
where He can just fill your heart with His goodness,
saturate your spirit with His grace,
and penetrate the distance with His love.

May you know, with a surety, that He is holding you, even when you feel that He is a million miles away.
Sometimes, He just wants us to "feel after Him".

"That they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after Him, and find Him, though He be not far from every one of us..."
Acts 17:27

"And ye shall seek Me, and find Me, when ye shall search for Me with all your heart."
Jeremiah 29:13

Take courage, my friend!
Seasons of spiritual dryness are followed by blessed times of refreshing.
Soon, your moment of rekindling will come.

To read a throwback, long-ago-written post about the road to Emmaus and my precious Mom, click HERE.

I am thinking of her and Dad so much lately, it seems...
missing them more than ever.
In honor of my dear parents, I am sharing some songs by two of Mom and Dad's favorite singers ever.
I will never hear the Louvin Brothers' precious songs without thinking of dear Mom and Dad.
Their perfect harmony was often heard in our home as I was growing up,
and hearing them now takes me way back to another place and time.
I hope you enjoy them as much as we have through the years.


If video doesn't load, click here.


If video doesn't load, click here.


If video doesn't load, click here.

If video doesn't load, click here.


If video doesn't load, click here.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Slowing Down To A 90 Year Old Pace

"The days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labour and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away."
Psalm 90:10
(KJV)

We have been learning to slow down...
to a 90 year old pace, that is.
Time spent in Mom and Dad Smith's house requires that.

We have a daily routine that is pretty predictable.
Outside of the trips to doctors, the grocery store, the post office, and taking Zach and Austin to the pool and on various other adventures,
our days are pretty laid back...and full of a certain sense of the same.

Life from the perspective of a 90 year old is worlds-apart-different than life viewed through the lens of a younger person.

My 90 year old father-in-law, with great-grandson, Easton

A 90 year old realizes, with a certain clarity, that their days are numbered.
They think often of eternity, as the sense of its nearness intensifies with each new health challenge, ER trip, and hospital stay.
A new day is a cherished, and somewhat unexpected, gift.
Being able to walk to the table, pick up utensils, and feed one's self another meal, 
finding strength to make it to the bathroom and to comprehend matters of the day's business are all things the rest of us take for granted, without a second thought.
Not so, with a 90 year old.
To them, another ordinary day of life's activities is a monumental accomplishment.

If God spares time and life, Dad Smith will turn 91 years old in September...
21 bonus years, past the "three score years and ten" that have become known as our "allotted time" on this earth, according to Psalm 90:10.
Life, for him, is very visibly winding down.
His days go something like this.
He gets up early and eats a small snack in order to take his morning meds.
Shortly thereafter, he is tired and needs a nap.
I'm usually up soon after and make a big breakfast.
He LOVES gravy, so whatever breakfast meat I choose to cook,
I make sure to include homemade-from-scratch country gravy.
He would rather eat gravy with some kind of bread than anything else in the world.
He gets up when he smells the aromas floating towards his room,
and we eat breakfast together.
Soon, it is time for one of his three favorite game shows,
and he is looking for someone to watch The Price is Right with him.
Not too long after, he takes another nap.
This goes on, in intervals, until it is time for the evening news.
I cook supper while he and Mom Smith watch the news,
then we all eat together.
At 7:00 pm, without fail, he and someone close by is trying to beat the contestants in deciphering crossword mysteries on The Wheel of Fortune.
When 7:30 rolls around, Jeopardy takes precedence over all other activities.
It is amazing how much you can learn...and prove how little you really know...in a half hour.
From 8:00 pm on, he tries to find something interesting to watch.
If he can't, his day comes to a close, and he goes to bed for the night.

Car trips are edging closer and closer to being a thing of the past.
The last few times we have found the courage to take him somewhere, it has been quite the challenge, has left him extremely weak and spent, and has opened our eyes a bit more to the fact that he probably shouldn't try to venture from home anymore.

My father-in-law sits often and tells me how much he misses walking to the garage out back and working in his workshop, as he looks around at the many pieces of furniture he has crafted in their living room.

"I sure wish I could go out and fire up the table saw, Cheryl."

I listen and sympathize and empathize,
and I tell him how sorry I am that he can't do the things he used to do.
I recall all of the wooden things he has made for me in times past.
Throughout our minimizing journey, I have had to let a lot of them go.
They've been passed on to others who are enjoying their quality and beauty as much
as I did through the years.
Though it hurts the sentimental part of me to no longer own them,
it makes me happy to know they are living on and bringing joy to their new owners.
There are two rectangular boxes that Dad Smith built for me that I will never let go of, however.
He made them for me to use as soap molds.
Zach and I love making lye soap together, and each time we use those soap boxes,
we think of Dad Smith.
We always will.

For many years, he was a carpenter, by trade.
He talks to me about working on the Back Creek Dam,
and he tells me about his last job spent building a huge house in Palm Beach.

We once drove by it, and he showed me his handiwork.
He was so proud of being able to say he worked on that house.

He is one of the last few remaining World War II Veterans.
He still loves to sit and talk about his time spent in the CCC camp
and how young he was when he joined.

When caring for elderly parents or loved ones,
there is a choice to make.
We can either become frustrated by the slowness of their pace,
or we can accept it and realize they can't change it and adjust ourselves by slowing down.

I look back over the past few years, and I realize that God has been gradually slowing us down for a long time.
He has been purging us, pruning us, paring down our possessions, freeing us from encumbrances,
loosing us from entanglements, and liberating us from toxic hindrances.

We live a very simple life.
It is wonderful.
I cannot thank God enough.

Observing my in-laws in their current stage of life,
I am often reminded of Ecclesiastes 12,
and I am amazed at how accurately Solomon described old age.
I want to elaborate on that here, as I compare it to what I am seeing day by day.

Verse One
"Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth, while the evil days come not, nor the years draw nigh, when thou shalt say, I have no pleasure in them;"

There isn't much pleasure left for Mom and Dad Smith.
They hurt and ache and have a hard time getting around and doing the things they used to do.
They depend upon others to do a lot of the things they used to be able to do alone and without effort.
There is a not-so-gradual decline in health, cognitive and reasoning abilities, and mobility.
Their days sort of blend in to one another, without much diversity or excitement.
Sadly, the years have drawn nigh for them to say,
"I have no pleasure in them."
On some days, it almost seems like life itself has become a burden.

Verse Two
"While the sun, or the light, or the moon, or the stars, be not darkened, nor the clouds return after the rain:"

The vision begins to wane and grow dim.
Things that used to seem so bright to the eyes, are no longer nearly as keen.
There is a constant cloud over the spirit, a steady fear of the next health scare and the next needed task that they will be unable to perform.
Clouds dampen the spirit, even after the rain has fallen.

Verse Three
"In the day when the keepers of the house shall tremble, and the strong men shall bow themselves, and the grinders cease because they are few, and those that look out of the windows be darkened,"

The hands that once held the power tools with a steadiness and sense of confidence,
now tremble.
I would worry if he did try to go out there and fire up that table saw.
The other day, Mom Smith, Lori, and I stood and watched him try to walk inside from Lori's front yard, and we cringed, as his "strong men" (legs) nearly completely buckled and went out from under him.
If Kevin, Zach, and Austin hadn't been standing close by, he would have fallen, for sure.
Believe it or not, my nearly 91 year old father-in-law still has his original teeth.
But, the grinders are becoming more few, and he speaks often of how he is soon going to need to go to the dentist.
To be honest, I dread seeing what he will have to go through in order for this to happen.

Verse Four
"And the doors shall be shut in the streets, when the sound of the grinding is low, and he shall rise up at the voice of the bird, and all the daughters of music shall be brought low;"

Dad Smith can hardly hear a thing.
Once he takes out his hearing aids, it is near-impossible to make him understand what you are trying to say.  
The sound of the grinding is low...can barely be heard now.
He rises up in the early morning...when the birds are waking up,
and he would never be able to hear his beloved bluegrass at all, if it weren't for his hearing aids.


Verse Five
"Also when they shall be afraid of that which is high, and fears shall be in the way, and the almond tree shall flourish, and the grasshopper shall be a burden, and desire shall fail: because man goeth to his long home, and the mourners go about the streets:"

Up until just a few years ago, Mom Smith would climb a ladder up to her roof,
(I know...think major denial),
and she would put her Christmas star up all by herself.
Now there are too many fears in the way, and heights are the enemy.
The tiniest problem is hugely magnified.
Something as small as a grasshopper...or a burned out light bulb...starts out as a huge concern,
then blossoms into a complete fiasco....that must be tended to yesterday, by the way.
Desire is failing.
The interest just isn't there anymore...even for things they used to be so passionate about.

Mom and Dad Smith will soon go to their long home...
that eternal home from which there is no return.

Having lived through the loss of both of my precious parents, 
I know what it means to be one of the "mourners who goes about the streets".
Losing a parent is truly one of life's greatest sorrows.
Losing the last parent leaves such a forlorn feeling deep inside.
It is so hard to walk through the dawning of the knowledge that both parents are gone.

When Mom and Dad Smith's individual hours of departure will come, we do not know.
So, we press forward, day by day, slowly and methodically,
as slowly as they need the pace to be,
trying to make their last days as comfortable as possible,
asking God often for grace, long-suffering, tolerance, strength, and courage.

We remind ourselves of all they have done for us through the years
and how difficult it must be to be standing in their shoes.

Life is slow...when you are 90 years old.
Though the outward man is perishing,
perspective is keen as the end of days draws nigh.

He often tells me that he hopes he goes first.
I don't think he could stand losing her, 
and, yet, could she get through losing him?
They have become so co-dependent.

Shortly after a recent time of being told he can no longer perform an ordinary daily chore for himself,
he waited until no one else was around and turned to me.
"Cheryl, a person has a certain amount of pride about themselves", he said.

My heart went out to him.
I could have cried.

It hurts to watch the ones you love grow old and incapacitated.
The best gift we can offer is our unfailing support and faithfulness to be there...
and to slow down to their pace.

By God's grace, they can go as slow as they need to...
and we will follow as long as necessary.