Category Archives: Christian Living

Review: Holding On When You Want to Let Go, by Sheila Walsh

Cover art: Holding On When You WAnt to Let Go, by Sheila Walsh

Holding On When You Want to Let Go, by Sheila Walsh (Baker Books, 2021)

Subtitled “Clinging to Hope When Life is Falling Apart,” this book takes a candid and compassionate look at the struggles that can make us want to let go and give up. And it takes a clear-eyed look at the God who holds us in His care even when life really does seem to be falling apart.

Each chapter opens with a verse of Scripture and a relevant quote. The first five address the main things that threaten to overwhelm us: feeling like life’s out of control, feeling alone, when God is silent, when we’re afraid, and when we’ve messed up.

This is an easy to read, conversational-style book that feels a little bit like we’re sitting with the author over coffee. Sheila Walsh doesn’t write “down” to us in an instructorly way. Instead, her personal stories and those she shares from others prove she has the credibility to write about this. She’s been there, and is still there, just as we are. But she’s learned some solid strategies to keep holding on.

Those strategies are the focus of the second half of the book: learning to focus on the God who is holding us. We read about His promises, His character, and he amazing things He has done for us. The invitation is to actually let go… and to be held by the One who won’t let go.

Favourite lines:

I still felt like that five-year-old girl who was afraid of being known. What if someone saw the crack in my soul. [page 78]

The simple act of thanksgiving reminds us that God is with us and that He is in control. [page 103]

If life is making you feel like letting go or if you just want a little reassurance, this book can be a helpful resource. I love how it keeps pointing back to God and to His Word.

Sheila Walsh is an author, speaker, and teacher who I first discovered in my younger years through her music. Scottish-born, she makes her home in the US. For more about the author and her ministry, visit sheilawalsh.com.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

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Celebrating 2021 (Guest Post)

Celebrating 2021

by Steph Beth Nickel

Yes, you read the title right.

On December 26, the visiting pastor to our church asked us which we would choose, gold or a struggle. While none of us would willingly choose the latter, he was pointing out the fact that, while things of this world are fleeting, struggles help strengthen and mature us spiritually.

I’m not ready to choose struggles, but I am willing to look back and see how past challenges have shaped and grown me. I’m willing to commit the year ahead to God’s care, whatever it may bring—including further struggles.

Let’s take a few minutes on this, the last day of the year, to journal about what we can celebrate—both “the gold” and the growth that has come as a result of the difficulties, obstacles, and heartbreaks we’ve faced.

Here are a half dozen tips as to how to go about this:

  1. Start here! Make a list of all the things that thrilled your heart this past year. For example, my hubby and I were able to fly from Ontario to Saskatchewan for the weekend to witness our son and new daughter-in-law’s wedding. What an incredible blessing! Now, that was something easy to celebrate.
  2. And now move onto the more challenging part of the exercise. Give yourself permission to be 100 percent honest with yourself and with the Lord. We don’t have to put on a brave face and only write what is “proper and expected,” what we think others would want to read and what we think is acceptable. After all, no one ever has to read these words. (And God already knows what we’re thinking and feeling.)
  3. Take some time to really “feel the feels.” Sit quietly. Journal more. Head out for a walk. Whatever works for you.
  4. Prayerfully, re-examine these struggles. Ask yourself how you’ve grown as a result. Have you been able to empathize with others more readily? Are you more patient with them? Have you seen yourself “go deeper” with the Lord as a result of your challenging times? Journal about it.
  5. Press in even further. What have you learned about God? About yourself? About others?
  6. Record how you’ve grown and developed spiritually. Don’t think you have? Journal about that too. You may be surprised.

Note: This post is for you, not your spouse or your best friend. We should never minimize the struggles others have faced or are facing. It’s important not to weigh them down further with additional “Shoulds.” I’m sure they’re doing enough of that to themselves. And while the Scriptures are true, as it says in Ecclesiastes 3, there is a time to speak and a time to remain silent. We need wisdom as to which is which. Spoken at an inopportune time, Bible verses can sound like nothing more than platitudes. Words meant to encourage and uplift can cause guilt and shame.

Further disclaimer: It is not my intention to weigh you down with Shoulds either. If you can only complete #1, go for it! While I may see some growth in me that has resulted from the challenges I’ve faced, I’d still rather they came via “the gold.”

What are you celebrating about the past 12 months?

What is one way in which you have matured spiritually because of a struggle you’ve faced?


Photo of Steph Beth Nickel
Photo credit: Jaime Mellor Photography

Steph Beth Nickel is an editor, writer, and birth doula. If you would like more information about her services, you can contact her at nurtureandinspire@gmail.com;
join her Facebook group:
 https://www.facebook.com/groups/2725853534313738;
or visit her website-in-progress: nurtureandinspire.com.

Gift-Giving Guide for Readers

If you’re looking for gift ideas, some of my writing friends have created a Gift-Giving Guide for readers who like devotionals and inspirational nonfiction.

Christmas Gift-Giving Guide: Connecting with God

This guide is available as a PDF to view online or to download. Please be patient and give it a few minutes to load–it’s beautifully done, which means lots of images and links to purchase anything that catches your eye.

Interested? Just click the image above or click here: Connecting with God.

The Comfort of Consistency (Guest Post)

The Comfort of Consistency

by Steph Beth Nickel

I’ve become one of those people.

Seven years ago, my then future daughter-in-law first came to visit from across the Pond.

Because our home is well over 100 years old, it looks best when it’s decorated for Christmas. So, that year, we decorated mid-November.

And that’s when it all began.

Dickensian Christmas display
Photo credit: Steph Beth Nickel

We’ve been decorating “early” ever since. My hubby set up his extensive Dicken’s Village from Department 56 on November 12 this year. The following Sunday, I set up my smaller (but more fun) Whoville Village on the mantel.

Christmas Who-ville scene
Photo credit: Steph Beth Nickel

The trees went up last week. Yes, trees—plural.

At this time of year, I can count on my hubby’s inner child surfacing. Christmas is his favourite time of year. After decades of marriage, his love for the season has finally rubbed off on me.

And don’t we all need a little enthusiasm, positivity, and just plain ole fun?

The past couple of years have weighed us all down with challenges we never anticipated—and some we saw coming but would rather have avoided.

Unprecedented. Pivot. New normal. We’ve all heard these words Far. Too. Often.

But in the midst of it all … consistency.

Christmas comes round every year. Hopefully, the season brings you far more joy than anything else. (While I do love my hubby’s enthusiasm and a laidback approach to the twenty-fifth—something we started even before 2020—I do miss visiting my extended family and celebrating in person with my sons and their wives. But let’s not dwell on that. Thank You, Lord, for Zoom!)

And hard on the heels of Christmas … a brand new year. Twenty-twenty-two. Can you believe it?

This time of year means more than coloured lights, Christmas villages, and a catered turkey dinner. (Hey, don’t judge!) It also means goal-setting time, which I love.

What do we want to accomplish in the next 13 months? What small steps can we take to get closer to our dreams and aspirations? How can we do our part to fulfill our responsibilities—both paid and volunteer?

I love a fresh new year … or month … or week. These are constants in my life, consistency that gives me an anchor as I get tossed around on the sea that is the world in the 21st century.

But the Real Anchor is not routine—although it’s comforting. It’s not even my hubby’s tangible joy as December 25 approaches. No matter what’s going on, no matter what time of year, the truth of Hebrews 13:8 keeps me from drifting when the seas are calm. And it keeps me from sinking in the midst of crashing waves. “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (ESV).

He is my Anchor, my Constant, my Security.

As you look ahead to the holiday season with its joys and challenges … As you approach the new year with expectation or hesitation … As you seek to make it through just one more day … I trust you will find your comfort and security in the truth of the unchanging Jesus Christ.


Photo of Steph Beth Nickel
Photo credit: Jaime Mellor Photography

Steph Beth Nickel is an editor, writer, and birth doula. If you would like more information about her services, you can contact her at nurtureandinspire@gmail.com;
join her Facebook group:
 https://www.facebook.com/groups/2725853534313738;
or visit her website-in-progress: nurtureandinspire.com.

Review: Prepare Him Room, by Susie Larson

Prepare Him Room, by Susie Larson (Bethany House, 2021)

Did you know there are 24 chapters in the Gospel of Luke? That’s one for each day of December until Christmas Eve.

Prepare Him Room is a gentle invitation to make space in our lives this Christmas season, to take time to refocus our spirits on Jesus and not miss the “sacredness of the season”. As the introduction says,

…it’s precisely this season when Christians most often lose sight of what’s available to them in Christ Jesus. [page 11]

In Prepare Him Room: A Daily Advent Devotional, each reading opens with related Scripture verses and quotes from other authors. In a friendly, conversational style, author Susie Larson shares anecdotes and applications that reorient us to Jesus, His presence, and His power.

Each day concludes with a prayer and a suggested “fast” from a thought pattern, attitude, etc. I’m sure we’re not expected to magically erase each one from our lives in one day, but in training us to notice these things in our lives, the author gives us a tool for ongoing, prayerful growth in the days ahead.

Favourite line:

Even though God delays, He delivers. [page 17]

My review copy is a delightful hardcover gift book complete with ribbon marker. The simplicity of the cover is like a deep breath, slowing me down to rest as I open to the day’s reading. I look forward to going back through the pages when December comes. [An ebook version is also available.]

For more about author and speaker Susie Larson, and for her online devotional encouragement, visit susielarson.com.

[Review copy provided by Baker Publishing Group via Graf-Martin Communications. My review is voluntary and is my own uninfluenced opinion.]

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Review: Psalms 365, volume 1, by David Kitz

Psalms 365: Develop a Life of  Worship and Prayer, volume 1, by David Kitz (Elk Lake Publishing, 2020)

With Psalms 365, author and storyteller David Kitz provides short, practical, and personal daily devotions from the beloved Book of Psalms. I’ve found it to be a valuable addition to my day.

Each reading points to a psalm, drawing on a key verse for the day’s focus. There’s a conversational-style reflection on the passage and a prayer of response. Then to encourage readers to deepen a lifestyle of worship and prayer each devotional concludes with a question to think about and to perhaps take into personal conversation with God.

Anyone familiar with the psalms knows that some are songs of worship, some of lament, others of repentance or even anger. Not always easy topics to draw an inspirational message from! David Kitz mines treasure from each one.

Volume 1 of Psalms 365 begins at Psalm 1 and goes to the end of Psalm 51. Volume 2 is also available, covering the next section, and volume 3 is still to come.

Excerpts from the Psalms 365 series can be found on the author’s blog, I Love the Psalms. On the blog he includes photos, which aren’t part of the books. Award-winning author David Kitz is also a Bible dramatist, conference speaker, and ordained minister. For more about him and his books, visit davidkitz.ca.

[Review copy provided by the author. My opinions are my own.]

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Advantages (and Disadvantages) of Working from Home (Guest Post)

Advantages (and Disadvantages) of Working from Home

by Steph Beth Nickel

More people than ever are working from home. Even before the pandemic hit, more and more people were starting home businesses. Over the past 14 months, many employees who would typically work in an offsite office have had to work from home.

There are several advantages.

Dress pants and shoes last longer.

If your work includes Zoom calls (oh, to have been in on the ground floor of that business), you have the option of wearing PJ bottoms or leggings and going barefoot e-ver-y day! And if you don’t connect with coworkers and/or clients via Zoom, you have the option of wearing comfy clothes head to toe.

You can set the alarm clock for later—if at all.

Who needs to get up early when they don’t have to eat, dress for work, put on makeup, and get out of the house in time to make it to the office by a specific time? (You don’t even have to shower every day. Who am I to judge?)

Without the commute, you save time.

Now that the commute lasts only as long as it takes to walk from your bedroom to the computer, you’re saving loads of time every single workday. And, just think, no rush hour traffic morning or night.

Food and drink are readily at hand.

Eat the lunch you brought or head to a local restaurant with your coworkers? No need to make that decision. The kitchen is only a few feet away. Need a coffee refill? Who’s to stop you?

You have less interaction with difficult coworkers, supervisors, and customers.

Once you’re into the flow of your work, you can keep going until it’s finished unless something truly pressing comes to your inbox. Escaping the daily interaction with others who cause you stress can be a blessing.

There are, of course, drawbacks as well.

You may need to increase your leisurewear budget.

When it became apparent that the first lockdown was going to last for a while, several fashion designers turned to making new lines of leisurewear and scaling right back on office wear, vacation wear, dresses, etc. Many of us have more leggings and joggers in our wardrobe than we ever imagined we’d own.

You may not have to depend on an alarm clock to start your day.

It’s wonderful to go to bed knowing we don’t have to wake up at a specific time. Plus, staying snuggled under the covers instead of jumping up before we’re ready … BONUS! However, if we find it too tempting and we don’t set “office hours” for ourselves, we may just spend too much time comfy and cozy.

No commute time.

For many people, that commute was their only opportunity to read a book or listen to a podcast. And at the end of the day, it provided the perfect opportunity to decompress before switching gears and tending to home and family responsibilities. It’s hard to factor in the equivalent when household chores, family demands, and work are pressing in 24/7.

Food and drink are readily at hand.

You’ve heard of the COVID 15/20/25. Yes? The food and drink that are readily at hand can lead to weight gain (and the need for the aforementioned leisurewear budget increase).

On a more serious note, the emotional and mental stress that the pandemic has placed on us has led to many people not having the wherewithal to eat healthy and stay active. They may sleep more and gain weight, which can lead to feelings of low self-esteem and guilt. If you’re having trouble dealing with the additional challenges this past year has laid on your shoulders, don’t hesitate to reach out to a friend, a counsellor, or a mental health professional.

Less interaction and other voices.

Extroverts are likely missing the daily face-to-face interaction with other human beings. Even introverts benefit from these interactions. And while we may love our family members to bits, “Mom, Mom, Mom …” and “Honey, have you seen my …” can weigh on us after a while.

I love the freedom of working from home, but it does pose its fair share of challenges.

If you work from home, what are some of the advantages and disadvantages you’ve discovered?

Steph Beth Nickel
Steph Beth Nickel
Photo of Steph Beth Nickel
Photo credit: Jaime Mellor Photography

Steph Beth Nickel is an editor, writer, and birth doula. If you would like more information about her services, you can contact her at nurtureandinspire@gmail.com;
join her Facebook group:
 https://www.facebook.com/groups/2725853534313738;
or visit her website-in-progress: nurtureandinspire.com.

Is It Trust or Denial? (Guest Post)

Pink tulips with text "Trust v Denial"
Image by Ralf Kunze from Pixabay
Image by Ralf Kunze from Pixabay

Is It Trust or Denial?

by Steph Beth Nickel

Do people who always seem at peace with whatever life may throw at them drive you crazy?

(Psst, that’s a rhetorical question. You don’t have to share your answer. Maybe not so rhetorical actually … since you probably should answer it for yourself.)

Let me transport you back in time three decades or so. When I was a brand new mom, my family and I moved to a new city.

There were members in our new church home who were going through what I then considered unimaginable hardships, including one family whose young son had succumbed to cancer. As the mother of a two-and-a-half-month-old baby boy, I couldn’t imagine why God would bless a family with a child and then take that child away.

Oh, I could recite the cliches! But I didn’t know any of them to be true—not deep down in my heart.

As time went by and I got to know some of these people better, I realized they weren’t just spouting platitudes but actually trusted that God knew what was best—even when their situation was difficult and heartbreaking.

Trust, especially trust in the God of All Comfort (2 Corinthians 1:3), is a remarkable and precious thing.

But what we think is trust can actually be denial, a squashing of our feelings, doubts, and fears.

This summer, my second son is getting married. Because of COVID, it’s highly unlikely that we’ll be able to attend the ceremony. (He and his bride-to-be live two provinces away.)

I’ve braced myself for this pretty much since Joshua informed me that he and Ericka had set a date. Still, it was more with a sense of fatalism than acceptance that I dealt with the reality of the situation.

And then, one day, I decided to be completely honest with myself. While I may have locked away my emotions, it didn’t mean they weren’t there. It didn’t mean that, if I gave them permission, the tears wouldn’t fall. It didn’t mean that I was truly accepting that God knows best in this, and every, circumstance.

COVID has taken many lives, and my heart goes out to everyone who has lost a loved one or is facing an ongoing battle with this horrific virus.

But, as we all know, COVID has struck a fatal blow in other areas as well—job security, relationships, our peace of mind, and on and on and on.

There’s no denying it.

And yet, there is light in the darkness, hope in the despair, trust in the denial.

But the way to find real peace is not by denying the struggles we face—physical, emotional, and spiritual.

We don’t need to cling to platitudes or cliches.

We don’t need to deny how we feel—or that we’ve locked away our emotions.

We don’t need to paste on a happy face and pretend we’re a-okay.

But if we want to come to the place of authentic trust, we must press in and get to know the God of All Comfort better than we ever have before.

That’s what I plan to do. How about you?

Steph Beth Nickel
Steph Beth Nickel
Photo of Steph Beth Nickel
Photo credit: Jaime Mellor Photography

Steph Beth Nickel is an editor, writer, and birth doula. If you would like more information about her services, you can contact her at nurtureandinspire@gmail.com;
join her Facebook group:
 https://www.facebook.com/groups/2725853534313738;
or visit her website-in-progress: nurtureandinspire.com.

Not Always Merry and Bright (Guest Post)

Not Always Merry and Bright

by Steph Beth Nickel

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Struggling?

Loss. Illness. Loneliness. Isolation. Fear.

Regardless of the year, Christmas can be a difficult and depressing season for many people. But 2020? Enough said.

You may be having a challenging day. Simply getting through it may be all you can do.

Here a few ideas that may make your day a little easier:

Even though it’s Christmas, reach out to a family member or friend if you need to chat even for a short time.

Work on a craft project. You don’t have to be good at it.

Write in your journal. It can be a great way to work through how you’re feeling. Don’t censor yourself. No one else ever has to read your words.

Watch your favourite movie. One that makes you laugh rather than cry may be a good option.

Listen to uplifting music. Some people like to listen to music that reflects their mood. I’m a fan of listening to music that reflects the emotions I want to feel.

Read a book. How about one that has been sitting on your To Be Read list for far too long?

Read the Christmas story in Luke 2.

Take a nap.

And if you’re up for it …

Make a list of things to be thankful for.

Connect with someone else who may need to hear a friendly voice today.

Know Someone Who’s Struggling?

We must never forget those having a rough time of it. (Remember what Jesus said in Matthew 25 about doing for “the least of these.”)

Here are some ways to reach out to someone during what, for some, is the Most Difficult Time of the Year:

Connect via Zoom—or another virtual means. Remember to include the children if you have little ones. For some, a child’s smiling face can go a long way to making them feel better. Plus, it helps your children learn that not everyone has a merry Christmas.

Create a Spotify playlist of your favourite uplifting music and share it with someone who needs the encouragement.

Pick up the telephone and call.

While you’re chatting ask if there’s anything you can do for the other person.

Pray for the individual you called. If they’re uncomfortable having you do so on the phone (or on Zoom), let them know you’ll pray when you hang up—and then do it.

Drop off Christmas dinner (or a plate of cookies) on someone’s porch. (Attach an encouraging note.)

If it’s impractical to drop off food, a card with a handwritten note could go a long way to cheering a lonely soul today.

Commit (even to yourself) to stay in touch. Throughout the new year call, visit, or fire off a note at least once a month.

While today won’t be merry and bright for many people, I pray the Lord will bring you the “peace that passes understanding.”

I also pray that He will increase our compassion for those He brings into our life and that He gives us opportunities to show them His love, the love that sent His Son to earth so long ago.

Have a Blessed Christmas, one and all!

Tweetables

  • Christmas can be a difficult and depressing season for many people. And 2020? Enough said. (click to tweet)
  • Simply getting through Christmas may be all you can do. (click to tweet)
  • Even though it’s Christmas, reach out to a family member or friend if you need to chat. (click to tweet)
  • We must never forget those having a rough time of it. (click to tweet)
  • Connect with someone who is struggling. (click to tweet)
  • Throughout the new year call, visit, or fire off a note at least once a month to someone who is having a tough time. (click to tweet)
Steph Beth Nickel
Steph Beth Nickel
Photo of Steph Beth Nickel
Photo credit: Jaime Mellor Photography

Steph Beth Nickel is an editor, writer, and birth doula. If you would like more information about her services, you can contact her at nurtureandinspire@gmail.com;
join her Facebook group:
 https://www.facebook.com/groups/2725853534313738;
or visit her website-in-progress: nurtureandinspire.com.

Choosing Gratitude (Guest Post)

Choosing Gratitude

By Steph Beth Nickel

Twenty twenty.

Enough said. Right?

COVID. Hurricanes. Wildfires. And so much more.

Pivot has become a way of life and “overwhelm” a state of being.

Remember back in the olden days—say this time last year? Maybe you were looking forward to 2020. Maybe you’d purchased a shiny new planner and had begun filling it in with goals and dreams for the following 12 months.

And then—March!

True confessions. For the first little while, I was relieved not to have so many obligations on my To Do list. (Bear in mind that I didn’t know anyone who had COVID. In fact, the number in my community has remained relatively small.)

When I thought about it, the word surreal came to mind.

As an extrovert desperately in need of continued “human contact,” I began to listen to more audiobooks and podcasts. Familiar voices and all.

While the optimists declared we would have so much more time for those projects we’d been putting off, it soon became clear that lethargy, lack of motivation, and full-fledged depression were taking their toll on many people. Even though I’m typically positive and upbeat, I found a heaviness settling in.

While I was able to keep up with my church work, I did very little writing and editing. I simply didn’t have the wherewithal or mental ambition.

When laziness, procrastination, and pandemics hit, we have to make a choice. (We may also need counseling, and those who seek it are to be commended. And in some cases, physician-prescribed medication is the right route to take.)

Still, gratitude is an important practice for all of us.

Since Ann Voskamp released One Thousand Gifts in 2011, many people have begun to keep a gratitude journal.

It’s actually amazing how quickly we can think of 1000 things to be thankful for—when we set our mind to it.

Where should you look for things to add to your gratitude journal?

  • Make a list of family and friends and things you appreciate about each of them.
  • Consider the people who indirectly and unknowingly make your life easier and more secure each day.
  • Make a list of material blessings you are especially thankful for—and then move on to those that simply make your life more enjoyable.
  • Instead of focusing on those things you are unable to do, make a list of things you can do.
  • If you’re able, go for a walk and be mindful of all the things around you that you have to be thankful for—including the ability to see, hear, feel, move, and think.
  • Make a list of unexpected blessings. While this may take longer, it will warm your heart and, perhaps, easy the heaviness.
  • Whether you’re attending church services in person or watching them online, there are many people working together—and a lot of tech—needed to make it possible.

These are only a handful of ideas, but they can get you started.

When we choose gratitude, it won’t make COVID go away. It won’t put an end to natural disasters. And it won’t magically cure anxiety and depression. However, it is an important discipline and will remind us just how much we have to be thankful for.

Do you keep a gratitude journal? What are you especially thankful for these days? Where do you look for ideas?

Tweets

Twenty twenty. Enough said. Right? (click to tweet)

Gratitude is an important practice. (click to tweet)

Gratitude is an important discipline and will remind us just how much we have to be thankful for. (click to tweet)

Steph Beth Nickel
Steph Beth Nickel
Photo of Steph Beth Nickel
Photo credit: Jaime Mellor Photography

Steph Beth Nickel is an editor, writer, and birth doula. If you would like more information about her services, you can contact her at nurtureandinspire@gmail.com;
join her Facebook group:
 https://www.facebook.com/groups/2725853534313738;
or visit her website-in-progress: nurtureandinspire.com.