This year, we chose to once again participate in our Second Annual Advent Acts of Kindness, in which we chose to create, give, or share one kind act each day during the Advent season, chronicling our adventures via Facebook and Twitter (@RuthExperience) and sharing joy and ideas with others. We were thrilled when the amazing women at SheLoves Magazine joined with us in our quest for kindness. We laughed, cried (a lot...), and felt overwhelmed with how blessed we felt, simply by looking for ways to bless others. We wanted to take a look back at the season, so here's a recap --
Elise and Noelle with some of the coats for OWC

Day 1: Donating new and gently used coats to One Warm Coat. Even a 2-degree drop in body temperature can result in reduced heart rate, loss of coordination, and confusion, but a warm coat can help solve the problem for those in need.

Day 2: Donating some much-needed basic necessities to New Beginnings, a residential program for pregnant women, new mothers, and their babies.

Day 3: Sending an encouraging note (and a little treat) to a woman facing a difficult Christmas season.
Day 4: Choosing gifts for kids at University of Minnesota Amplatz Children's Hospital. So brave! Warning: This video is a total tear-jerker!
Leaving a gift for our waiter!
Day 5: Leaving a gift for our waiter (who had to leave early for a family emergency). Today my girlfriends and I decided that we would do an act of kindness tonight at our annual Christmas party. We decided to bring a gift for our waiter/waitress. We prayed a simple prayer for someone who may need an extra boost this holiday season. Our waiter was an older gentleman who gave excellent service. Three quarters of the way through our meal another waitress came up and told us she was very sorry but our waiter had to leave for a family emergency. We immediately pulled out extra gift cards and cash to bless this man and his family. We were able to offer encouragement, thoughts and prayers for his family during their emergency. We left the restaurant thankful that God answered our simple prayer to help someone who really needed it.  

Tim and Tony
Day 7: Paying for someone's gas. While we were driving, Tim and I had been talking about how we'd like to bless someone in the military, especially given that it's the anniversary of Pearl Harbor. Tim told me, "What are the odds we're going to find a person in the military, in uniform, in Monticello, Minnesota?" Waiting patiently for the perfect person to bless, sure enough, a man in uniform pulled up to the gas pump -- Tony is in the Navy, a husband and father, and was on his way to the airport to head to Florida for six months. So thankful for his service and sacrifice! Tim told me it was one of his favorite things that we've done.

Day 8: Choosing World Vision gifts. For the last few years one of our kids three Christmas gifts is a gift they give to somebody else. Each year they scour the World Vision catalogs to pick out the perfect gift. This year they chose to: provide safety for young girls, give a ger (a house in Mongolia), and provide a small business loan to help a mother provide for her family.  

Day 9: Making homemade gifts for our teachers.

Jeremy and I when we were little
Day 10: Donating to something that matters to me. When I was three years old, a new cousin was adopted into my aunt and uncle's family. Since my parents were the youngest in their families and I was the youngest in mine, that was rare and wonderful. Jeremy could swing higher and climb more nimbly than I could, and easily outdistanced me running. Years later, he now loves professional wrestling and can tell you everything you'd ever want to know about the U.S. presidents. My amazing cousin was also born with fetal alcohol syndrome. It wasn't until I was older that I knew what that meant, and as far as I'm concerned, it's part of what makes him unique. But I also know that it can be challenging. Did you know that fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD) are the leading preventable cause of birth defects, developmental disabilities, and learning disabilities? They affect around 1 in 100 babies each year (about 40,000 total), and are more prevalent than Down Syndrome, Cerebral Palsy, SIDS, Cystic Fibrosis, and Spina Bifida COMBINED. That's why I'm donating today to the National Organization on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. They provide everything from resources encouraging expectant moms not to drink alcohol during pregnancy to information on summer camps and other resources for those with FASD and their families.
Day 11: Sending a card and stickers to a little girl named Ella through Post Pals, a charity helping you to "Post a Smile on a Sick Child’s Face" by the sending of cards, letters, emails and little gifts to seriously ill children and their siblings. Jasmine loved this one so much last year, we had to do it again! 

Goodies in the mailbox
Day 12: Giving our friends from China a tour of several neighborhoods with houses decorated with Christmas lights -- an American tradition they've never experienced before.
Day 13: Leaving goodies in the mailbox for our mail carrier. I love being able to include my little ones in our plans, it feels like the very best kind of secret, so of course they love it -- today Elise insisted on adding in a homemade gingerbread magnet, although giving up the chocolates was much more of a sacrifice.  

Day 14: My daughter Eleanor was born yesterday and it gave us the perfect excuse to do an AAK at the hospital! We brought crayons, coloring books and stickers to leave in the waiting room and coffee gift cards for the parents who have kids in the children's unit this Christmas season.  

Day 15: Making Secret Santa gifts for our neighbors (the kiddos are decorating the cards and will help deliver them).

Day 16: Bringing a meal to a family in need. Today the girls and I packed up a meal for the family of a mama on extended bedrest at a hospital (pregnant with twins!). She and her husband already have two little ones at home, and were so appreciative of the best of North and South -- my family's favorite "hotdish" (baked ziti) and a pecan pie straight from Texas.
Bringing a meal to a family in need
Day 17: Writing a letter to encourage a survivor. Did you know that there are more than 27 million slaves in the world today? There are many amazing organizations whose purpose is to combat human trafficking, including The A21 Campaign. Today I had the opportunity to write a letter to a young woman who is living in one of their shelters.  

Day 18: Sewing pillow cases for children with serious illnesses. Julie shared this story about the experience over with SheLoves Magazine: "It was an accidental discovery. I was searching Pinterest for simple sewing projects to go along with the beginner sewing kit my daughter will get for Christmas when I stumbled upon the Conkerr Cancer site. This organization donates handmade pillow cases in bright, rainbow-hues to children with serious illnesses in a variety of participating hospitals all across the country. My local chapter located in Minnesota just donated it’s 10,000th pillowcase.

"I couldn’t believe it. You see, my mother-in-law has been sewing brightly colored, fun pillow cases for all of her grandchildren for years. We have a collection of fun, beautifully hued pillow cases lovingly made by Grandma Connie that my children LOVE.

"And, after my son and I made a trip to the Mayo Clinic this past summer, he was gifted his very own, handmade, brightly colored surgeon’s hat to wear on his way into the operating room. It seems only right that we return the favor.

"My family has joined forces with Grandma Connie for our extra special Advent Act of Kindness. The kids will help us pick out fabric, and we will gather together as a family to cut and sew our pillow cases.

"We will make a mess and laugh and teach our children that Advent Acts of Kindness is as much about family and love as it is about giving of our time, talent, and treasure.

Volunteering at Place of Hope

Day 19: Feeding the hungry. Roughly 30 of us traveled to Place of Hope Homeless Shelter to serve 20 pans of lasagna to 50 people experiencing homelessness and help 160+ local at-risk kids shop and wrap gifts for their families. What those statistics don't tell you are the number of tears we privately shed and the overwhelming joy we felt from helping others. And on a personal note: If I didn't already love my husband's generous heart, the fact that he literally gave a homeless man (and fellow Broncos fan) the shirt off his back would have made me fall in love with him all over again.  

Day 20: Making Christmas goodies for the neighborhood!
Day 21: Pulling ornaments of the YMCA's wish tree. Today we chose the ornaments, and we'll be buying the items on the list and delivering them this week.

Day 22: Planting a tree. I know people say that "every dollar counts," and in this case, that's true: One dollar plants one tree via an organization called Plant a Billion
Bowling with residents
Day 23: Sending cards for military personnel through Operation Gratitude. It's easy (just no glitter) and they receiving love cards all year long.

Day 24: Visiting a nursing home. Today we went to a local nursing home and spent the afternoon with residents who did not have family visiting today.  

Day 25: Finale! This year for our finale, we are once again collecting clothing items for a Single Moms Retreat that we helped with last spring. We'll be collecting items between now and May 1st. If you'd like more details, contact us and we'll give you the full scoop. Here's a post from last year that Kendra wrote about the retreat.

Whew! It is truly amazing to pause and reflect on this year's acts of kindness -- not because we did anything special, but because we were able to witness all the ways God worked through us to touch the lives of others. No wonder AAK is my family's favorite Christmas season tradition...
Last night as we were eating dinner, the subject of Christmas came up. Excitedly, my oldest son asked, “Remember last year when we made a birthday cake for Jesus? That was cool.”

Celebrating Jesus birthday this year!
And of course, I didn’t remember until he said it. 

Because with all the busyness of the season -- decorations, presents, events, cards -- I’ve forgotten the little things we’ve done. But my 11-year-old had not.

“We should do that again,” he says seriously. I nod in agreement.

And the other night as I’m visiting with a new friend, someone who had known my sister Katrina before she died, she tells me how she used to be in a MOPS group with my sister, how she would drop juice off weekly for her to drink. It reminded me of the months I lived with Katrina and her family. How we would share meals together, have Bible study every Tuesday afternoon. How we would sit in the evening and watch Gilmore Girls.

I remember how soft her hands always were. How often she would uplift with a soft touch, an encouraging word.

Image by Williamhartz via Flickr
I don't know about you, but my family isn't perfect.  And the more I try to pretend that we are, the more apparent it becomes that we are not. 

This past summer, after a hot day spent doing yard projects and housework, my husband invited our neighbors over for a picnic on our back patio. He announced this to me as I was setting the table, after the food was already on the grill.

I paused in the midst of my preparations to consider my jeans with dirt and grass stains smeared across the knees, the hot pink, paint-splattered “project” t-shirt I don whenever I’m working on projects, and my general “I’ve been working outside in the dirt and the sun all day” appearance.... It was too late to run in and change. I remembered that our neighbors are two of the nicest, most down-to-earth people around, shrugged off my appearance, and called the children to dinner.

As we all settled around the patio table after saying a simple grace, Aaron stepped back into the house to grab the ketchup. It was at that precise moment that my three-year-old son decided to open the conversation by leaning in and loudly asking our neighbor whether or not he was a boy (using anatomically correct terms).

Today, The Ruth Experience is excited to feature a guest post from Marisa O'Connor, who focuses on an important decision we face all the time: choosing redemption over regret. It's an especially timely reminder during this time of year, when so often we think about all of the things we could be doing or should be doing, rather than focusing on the simple joys of the season. 
Choosing redemption
For some time in my life, I unquestionably endorsed the figure of speech: "You make your bed, you lie in it." After all, there is truth to it – we make choices in life and we have consequences due to those choices. Recently, I've wrestled with why this phrase created feelings of irritation in me and concluded that it's the implied meaning behind this phrase... an unintentional or intentional, unhelpful way to put someone in their place, not unlike "I told you so."

That person knows they messed up and they know that you know they messed up. They don't need salt rubbed in their wound, and more importantly, they don't need to be shamed for their choices.

Photo by Nina Matthews from Flickr
This first week of Advent Acts has been an emotional one for me. Maybe it’s because I’m in the final stages of pregnancy, my body beginning the pangs of nearing childbirth. Maybe it’s the simple ways God has answered prayers to reach out and bless others who may need it. Or maybe it’s simply because I’ve realized my own brokenness when seeing and experiencing it in others' stories.

Like when I read of a woman named Michaela whose daughter Flo is diagnosed with Spinal Muscular Atrophy type 1. And yet, instead of letting this diagnosis paralyze her, she is using her words and her actions to build others up and offer honest words of hope -- in the middle of pain, not in the absence of it. Choosing to work closely with Canuck Place, a hospice program for children, her Advent act to gather mugs to bring cheer to this hospice home where families find respite, a reprieve from their everyday life. Bringing a bit of light and hope. This intentional lifting up a broken hallelujah is beautiful to see.

We’re continuing our Wednesday series, “What I Want My Kids to Know About…” today, with Kristin's post on perfectionism. And don't forget to keep posting your Advent Acts of Kindness on Facebook and Twitter (@RuthExperience) with #adventkindness and #shelovesadvent. 

I am a recovering perfectionist. And though I try to stifle the impulse, sometimes I’m reminded of it. Take the other day, for instance --
Photo: Michael "Shane" Red on Flickr
I watch in slow motion as the Tupperware of large, child-sized buttons falls off the table. They scatter, rolling haphazardly to rest next to crumbs and chair legs, across a hardwood floor that needs sweeping. Bright, shiny drops of primary colors gleam in the light spilling over from the kitchen.

“Oh, no!” my 3-year-old shouts. “Look at this mess!”

I pause, wincing at the way she sounds exactly like me, words I’ve heard myself say when a tube of dropped yogurt splattered across the floor or the baby pushed the remains of her dinner off her high chair for what felt like the millionth time. 

Hello, friends! As you may know, we're in the midst of our Second Annual Advent Acts of Kindness, in which we're choosing to create, give, or share one kind act each day during the Advent season, chronicling our adventures via Facebook and Twitter (@RuthExperience) and sharing joy and ideas with others using #adventkindness and #shelovesadvent. That's why we're thrilled to feature a guest post today from the three ladies of Simple Truth Ministry. These inspiring women are currently in the midst of a study on the book Advent Conspiracy: Can Christmas Still Change the World? The book focuses on taking consumerism out of Christmas and putting Christ in the center of how we choose to spend our time and money throughout the Advent season. If you're interested in joining in with them, go to their website, click on the link to their book club, and select the link for the invitation to join the club. If you message them or comment on that post, they can add you to a Facebook group specifically focusing on the book study.

Here's a recent post from them on the first time they heard God's voice speak to them:

I was attending my very first Bible study called “He Speaks to Me.” When I started the study, I was attending church regularly and getting familiar with scripture. I was learning how to “ask” to hear from God -- and learning to listen -- but I had not yet heard God's voice. Every day I was prayerfully begging him to speak to me. I was ready, willing, and waiting.

I was at Publix loading up my trunk with groceries. The last thing in the cart was the deli fried chicken I had picked up for dinner. I smiled, knowing this was going to score major brownie points with my husband. We didn’t live anywhere near a Publix and their deli fried chicken was one of his favorite splurges! I grabbed the chicken, set it in the passenger seat, and headed home.

This past month has been a busy one for our family. Between school, activities, birthdays and gatherings, I’ve had little time to sit and catch up on current world events. I had heard about the typhoon that had hit the Philippines, but with everything else, it just stayed on the periphery of my life, not really registering as I carried on my daily duties.
Praying over our gift.

And then this past week I got a letter from World Vision, an organization that -- among many things -- sends aid to areas of the world affected by disaster. I had a few minutes before my daughter got off the bus so I sat down, seeing the letter was about the devastation that had hit the Philippines. Determined to be intentional and to stop, to finally take the time to know what had happened.

What I read was shocking. Thousands thought dead. The worst storm on record. Hundreds of thousands of people and families displaced. The greatest needs being food, water, shelter -- basic necessities that I rarely give a second thought. As the shock began to wear off, I realized how long I had waited before really taking the time to sit and take it all in. Kyle got home and I told him about what had happened. We agreed we needed to do something. We would talk with the children at supper that night, determined to always share our concern for others with our kids, not wanting to scare them, but always wanting them to know and be a part of our giving to others.

Circles of Faith is featuring our Second Annual Advent Acts of Kindness today! You can join the fun by following along on our Facebook page and Twitter. Look for #AdventKindness with all our posts, and be sure to add it to yours as well.

Photo by Brainedge on Flickr.
Here's an excerpt from Kendra's post:

Christmas. It’s a season of giving to others and remembering Jesus and his birth. 

But for many of us, especially with children, our season of celebration can turn into one of duty and chaos as we shop, buy, bake, and wrap our way through. Suddenly this time of year when we want to reflect, relax, and make memories becomes anything BUT what we’ve dreamt it could be!

This is where I and two close friends found ourselves last November as we faced another Christmas season. So we decided we wanted to do something different -- sure, there would still be presents and trees, cookies and stockings -- but we wanted to shift the focus off ourselves and our families and back to the true meaning of the season: Jesus and giving to others.

We decided that during the 25 days leading up to Christmas, we would focus on giving to others in our neighborhoods, communities, country, and even the world.

Read the rest here.
Today, we're excited to be linking up with SheLoves Magazine for our Second Annual Advent Acts of Kindness!

Their amazing staff has agreed to join us in committing one kind act each day in December leading up to Christmas. Join the fun by following along on their Facebook and Twitter: @shelovesmag with #shelovesadvent.

And, of course, join us on The Ruth Experience's Facebook page and Twitter: @RuthExperience. Look for #AdventKindness with all our posts, and be sure to add it to yours as well.

Here's an excerpt from Julie's post:

It happened just this past week when I swung by the local mall with my two small children. I was intently focused on getting their shaggy, straggly hair cut before all the relatives arrive for Thanksgiving.

The furthest thing from my mind in that moment was Christmas.

That is, until I stumbled upon the mall’s new temporary resident: Santa.

As I looked for a quick exit, any escape route to avoid the inevitable, the little voices next to me told me I was too late.

Two observant sets of eyes turned to me …“Santa?”

Every December I struggle with how to refocus my family’s attention on Christ, on giving, and on thinking of something or someone other than ourselves, or on what Santa might bring, or the presents on our list.

Read the rest here.

Image by TschiAe via Flickr
 It was the day after Halloween, and as I swept into a local store to grab a few items I skidded to a halt in disbelief: 

Christmas trees. Up. Decorated. What the what?!? 

I almost checked the date on my phone to make sure I hadn’t accidentally skipped 30 or so days.

Don’t get me wrong, I love Christmas. L.O.V.E. Christmas. What I don’t love is all the commercialism that goes along with it.  

Last year, two of my friends and I started a counter-revolution against the commercialism of Christmas.

If you are thinking picket signs and three angry women standing on a street corner shouting, you’re going down the wrong path.
I bought my daughter Elise's first Barbie the other day. I felt a little conflicted over it -- the unrealistic body shape, the picture-perfect makeup and hair, the feet permanently arched to accommodate high heels -- but in the end, succumbed.

Elise -- my beautiful, smart, kind girl
I could spend time trying to justify my choice. I could tell you that we have a house full to overflowing with projects and toys that will help my daughters gain confidence, that the culture of princesses that pervades our society is offset by other interests. I could tell you that I found the most modest doll I could find, which happened to be the "Barbie for President" doll. And I could tell you that yes, I tell my daughters that they are beautiful, but I also tell them that they are smart, and capable, and kind, and generous. 

And all of that would be true -- but I'm not sure if it matters. 

Because in the end, my daughters' sense of beauty -- and the self-worth that underpins it -- will come, primarily, from me. From my example.
This past spring was busy. Too busy. As I hurried from day to day, trying to get all my lists done but always lagging a bit behind, I felt God calling me to let some things go. Step down from some groups and ministries I enjoyed. At first I balked, not wanting to stop. But as spring went on and I found myself pregnant and dealing with nausea most days, I began to crave rest.
Photo by Adam Pniak on Flickr.

So I did it. I let go of some of my “busyness.” Determined to rest. Believing that was what God was calling me to do. And I felt good about it.

The summer went by with a lot of time spent doing kids’ activities and family trips, spending time together. It was wonderful. And I didn’t really notice what I’d lost.

But then this fall came. The kids went back to school. I had more time at home -- more time to myself. And I began to feel like I needed those things back. I dropped my son off at preschool, the same place a group of women were meeting to plan for an organization that I loved, one I’d been part of and then let go in the spring.

And I left feeling sad. Unsure. Is this really what God has for me?

As I lay in bed that afternoon, worn out from cleaning our rental property the day before, I realized how hard this season of rest is for me. That for as much as we say rest is good and wouldn’t we all like a little more down time, a quieter season in life, most of us never really stop to do it. Myself included.

Because for this woman who likes to: Go. Be. Do. It’s been hard to simply: Stop. Wait. Rest.

Hey friends!
Photo by Nina Matthews on Flickr.

Today we are sharing with you some wonderful links to inspire and encourage you this weekend, as well as some amazing sites we've been honored to share at this past week.

Check them out, leave a comment and enjoy!

-The Girls of TRE

What I Gained When I Lost the Panty Hose by Kristin Gordley

Healing Pains by Kathy Banta

Freedom From Expectiations by Kristin Demery

No Water Please: A Call to Preserve by Ashley Skillman

Mean Girls: Adult Online Edition by Kendra Roehl

Preparing for the Holidays with Chronic Illness by Esther Aspling

Exaggerated Expectations by Tabby Finton

Be Bold by Kendra Roehl
Today I am excited to be posting over at Blogs By Christian Women. I'm writing about overcoming my fear of exposure and my desire to be bold. Here is a portion of my post:

This past month, I have been reading through the book of Jeremiah. It’s a somewhat depressing interesting book that chronicles the people of Israel, who had rebelled against God, and Jeremiah’s role to speak truth to them even when it was unpopular.

As I read, I am struck by how often he was one man, standing alone, in a sea of other prophets who were telling the people everything was fine, they were all good with God. Jeremiah was the only one who spoke truth to the people. Hard truth. Honest truth. Even if they didn’t like it. Even if HE didn’t like it. He was obedient to God.

I imagine Jeremiah must have felt very vulnerable at times. Maybe too honest.

Although I cannot imagine what this was like exactly for Jeremiah (no one has threatened my life or wellbeing over something I’ve said), I can understand the vulnerability he must have felt.

Being a writer and a blogger is amazing. It can bring community and honesty, healing and renewal. But there is also a side of being a writer that is scary; putting yourself and your story out there for others to read and know is sometimes daunting.

I worry what others may think of me.

You can read the full post here. 

I’m terrified of public speaking. And today, I have to face my fear. 
It's infinitely worth it to face our fears.
When I say I’m terrified, it’s not like I kill spiders with the biggest shoes I own or I hurl myself onto chairs when I see mice, although both of those things are true. 

When I say I’m terrified, I mean it. For me, it's a deeply visceral unease – I feel nauseous like I’ve got morning sickness or the 24-hour flu, with an added dose of heart-pounding anxiety thrown in for good measure. 

Photo by Vancouver Film School on Flickr.
Yesterday I attended my oldest son’s IEP (Individualized Education Plan) meeting at school. I couldn’t be more proud. In the past several years, after being in a stable environment, he has made leaps and bounds in his educational progress, meeting grade level (finally!) in math and reading. Many problem areas, diagnosis, and concerns he once had on his school record have now been removed. He is finally seeing success.

And yet with all the good that he has done, he still struggles at times. Struggles with study habits, with speech, and with the written word. His dad and I spend hours each day helping him figure out good ways to organize his thoughts, hold him accountable for work that’s due, and help him with the endless stream of homework.

Photo by Sadie Hernandez via Flickr
Halloween hasn't even come and gone, and yet talk of Christmas is everywhere. 

Stores are decked out with tinsel and garland and trees and pre-pre-pre-Black Friday sales. My kids are starting to see random Santas, and just last week I was asked to set a date for our annual cookie exchange (which I love!).  

The "holidays" are LOOMING -- with all of the good stuff, but also with all of the frantic hustle and bustle. 

I'm already feeling a little anxious about how busy I'll get -- despite my yearly vow not to overdo, to over schedule, to over commit.

And then, to top it off, I rushed right past a friend's greeting last Friday -- completely oblivious to her cheerful presence as I was frantically going from one task to the next. 


How did this happen? How are we already sliding into the too busy holiday routine? How am I too busy to hear and see and witness the real things, the good things, the beautiful things revealed every day?  

How do I put the brakes on, slow it down, stop and BREATHE? 
Today I am so excited to be guest posting over at Incourage. I'm writing about the struggle to find my identity in nothing other than Christ. Here's a small portion of my post:

Photo source, here
“My struggle this weekend has been about where I really fit,” my friend confided in me over lunch. “I know what God has for me, but I feel like I’m in limbo, wondering where I fit right now.”

As she speaks, I sit fidgeting with my water glass, knowing exactly what she means. I, too, have struggled with identity. Wondering where I belonged.

“Some days are just better than others,” she states.

I take a deep breath, give a little smile and say, “Sometimes I think God strips away our titles so we’ll find our identity in him alone.” And as I say it, I know it’s easier said than done, acknowledge my own struggle to find my purpose in God versus accomplishments in this world.

You can read the full post here.

In my mind’s eye, she is larger than life – clear blue eyes still laughing, no more wrinkles than she had when she died at 28. While my own eyes have started to crinkle and form lines in the corners, she is still eternally young. While I peer anxiously at my roots to search for gray hairs or smooth work-worn hands over hips gone soft from two children, she remains eternally beautiful. 

My beautiful sister Katrina
And even though it’s been eight years since she died in 2005, I still talk to her when I’m all alone.

Just like New Orleans is still rebuilding its city eight years after Hurricane Katrina swept through; I’m still rebuilding my heart after the loss of my own dear sister Katrina. 

Image by Steven Depolo on Flickr
I have a secret to confess. There have been many times in my life I have dismissed thoughts or actions to help, encourage, or get involved because of five simple little words: Somebody else will do it. As quickly as I’ll think it, the motivation to step up, to get in the mix or do something dissipates.

I’m released from feeling like I should. All guilt is gone. Because really, with so many other Christians out there, surely God has someone else in mind who could do it. Somebody else who is better suited. Somebody else will do it.

And that has alleviated me from guilt many a day. Too many days.

Until yesterday.
Today we're thrilled to have a guest post from blogger Kristin Gordley, who writes:

Image: ToastyTreat on Flickr
I was saying goodbye to a wonderful lady that I wished I had gotten to know better. She was moving away. Although she was much further along in life than I, she expressed the thought that I had encouraged her and that she really appreciated my “gentle” spirit. Internally, I laughed. “Boy, she doesn’t know me!” 

Several months later, another friend told me that she admired my “gentleness.” This time I pondered it a bit more. But eventually, I had the same thought – “She doesn’t know me very well.” 

However, through other people, God was showing me how he saw me.

Image by basheertome on Flickr
As I prepared my kindergartner for school this fall, I tried to pass on some wisdom for navigating elementary school. 

Of all the topics we discussed, the "rules" of riding the school bus topped my list. And, although she rides the bus for a grand total of five minutes, my own childhood bus rides through winding country roads for 45 minutes made me an expert on what happens in the dark neither regions of the school bus known as "the back of the bus." 

I remember the bus bully, the teasing, the language not appropriate for little ears. I remember the mini-community with its own hierarchy and its own way for handling disagreements. I remember poor "Earl the Squirrel" (as we all called him) -- my own bus driver who was woefully unprepared to deal with the Lord of the Flies scenario unfolding on my childhood bus trips home. 
Image by Pol Sifter on Flickr
On this, the final week of our fall devotional, we ask the question: how do I wait on God?

God sometimes responds to our prayers immediately. But sometimes, we feel as though the ears of Heaven are shut against our pleas - our heads know that God has heard, but our hearts long for action, for rescue, for help.

We reinterviewed Susan* (names have been changed) in The Ruth Experience - a woman who knows what it means to wait. But first, an abridged excerpt from her testimony in the book:

As Susan left her physically and verbally abusive husband after twelve years of marriage, his final vow rang in her ears: He would use all the money he had to take their three sons away from her.  

Hi, friends!

The girls of TRE are at Redeemed Retreat this weekend with the other writers of Bridging the Gap enjoying amazing speakers such as Susie Larson, Dr. Greg and Erin Smalley, Shaunti Feldhahn and Meredith Andrews. It's bound to be a good time (if you're here with us, be sure to stop by and say "hi" at the BTG resource table) and we wanted to share the good times with everyone -- so instead of just doing a special retreat-only giveaway, we decided to put it out for everyone to join in on the fun!

We are giving away 2 $25.00 gift cards to Darden Restaraunts (Red Lobster, Olive Garden, and more) and there are several ways to increase your chances of winning. Sign up below!

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Today we're featuring a guest post from Kate Washleski, who writes about the challenges she's faced recently and how God continues to use them to teach her things in unexpected ways:

Have you ever felt like piece by piece your life is changing, and not seemingly for the better? Maybe you're even thinking, “My life is falling apart.” Maybe things at work have changed and you don’t have the same responsibilities you used to, or things at home have changed in some small, but noticeable, ways. Or maybe there’s so much change that you don’t know which way is up. 

Sometimes, it's just one of "those seasons"
This has been one of “those seasons” for me; it feels like much is being taken away, especially at work. I have had some pretty extreme and unforeseeable changes that have been quite challenging, including a new role that I didn’t ask for. Parenting our little guy has been a lot harder than I expected, and we’ve had to see many specialists over the last 20 months to try and determine why his body is growing so slowly and what the impact is on his development as well. Lately, I’ve been struggling to be fully engaged with my family when I’m home and be content, find joy, and be intentional with others, especially as my husband started another term of his master’s program again this fall. I think I feel a bit lonely, if I’m honest, and I’m at my limit more often than usual. 

There is a whole generation of young women (late 20s and 30s) getting cancer -- simply because
Nina Matthew Photography
they were "daddy's girls" at age ten.

These daddies worked with asbestos in the days when the public didn't know it was scary dangerous. The fine asbestos dust hitched a ride home with them on their coats, their boots, their clothing. 

Daughters (and we don't know why it isn't happening to sons, too) slipped on these same coats to feed the rabbits, slipped on these same boots to check the mail, they worked next to him in the garage or the barn or the shed. And as they played and walked and did chores, they breathed in the dust.

Mesothelioma (cancer) lies in wait 20 to 30 years before suddenly manifesting itself physically. Otherwise healthy young women and their young families are suddenly and unexpectedly faced with a grim diagnosis and a long journey of surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation. And it is 100 percent preventable.

Called to walk the road less traveled (Photo: berud on Flickr)
There are roughly 417 times that sacrifice is addressed in the Bible. In the Old Testament, the word “sacrifice” is mainly given in the context of animal sacrifice ritually performed. The New Testament moves beyond the sacrifice of many to the sacrifice of one – the sacrifice of a holy, sinless Jesus Christ. Although Christ’s sacrifice altered our relationship with him, he still desires us to offer sacrifices to him.

The question we face today is, What does sacrifice look like for me, specifically? Although our sacrifice may be unique, the Bible does lay out specific ways that our lives should be sacrificial.

As I was getting ready for bed last night and thinking about Christa’s story, an old song came to my mind that we would sing in church when I was a little girl. The verses talked about choosing and following God, but the words of the chorus were what kept ringing in my ears: no turning back, no turning back.

A simple phrase. And yet powerful if fully realized and pursued. 
Photo by Jeff Ruane on Flickr

And I was thinking about all the ways we make choices in our lives. How we decide what we will choose, what we will follow each day.

So here is a short list of what is most important for me to choose today:

I choose my husband. Even though he’s not perfect (and neither am I), even though we argue and disagree, even though we can hurt each others feelings; I choose him. I don’t just want to love him, but I choose to make him my priority everyday.