Sunday, September 25, 2016

The Inner Views of Wanda Ward

"The God of my rock; in Him will I trust: He is my shield, and the horn of my salvation, 
my high tower, and my refuge, my saviour; thou savest me from violence."
2 Samuel 22:3

Today, I am so thrilled to share the interview of a precious sister in the Lord,
who has been a dear blessing to me, through the writing on her blog,
through the encouragement she so often leaves here,
 and through the technical expertise and help she has been so willing to provide.

I know you will be abundantly blessed as you read her testimony and the words she has shared with us here.  

I am so thankful to bring to you the
Wisdom-seeker, Jesus-lover, Book Enthusiast, Blogger,
Wanda Ward.

Cheryl:  Please tell us about yourself. 

Wanda:  Thanks for having me, Cheryl. I’m an Arkansan that still lives in my small hometown, which was mentioned in Maya Angelou’s, "I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings". For the longest time, I considered myself a middle child, but then my younger brother came along and totally threw off that balance. Until then it was just three girls, and I indeed was the girl in the middle. Currently, I spend my days working as a case management coordinator for an older adult program and my free time is spent reading books and tending to my blogs.

Cheryl:  We would love to hear about your Christian testimony. How long have you been a Christian? What life events led you to the cross? 

Wanda:  Having been raised with a Christian mother (however my father was not) church has always been a part of my life. My siblings and I joke that she had us at church every time the doors were opened. Because I felt church was forced upon on me in certain regards, it would be years before I fully accepted the Truth of God’s Word as personal to me. Being raised in a very strict religious environment, it always felt as if I didn’t measure up or wasn’t quite good enough. I even went through a period of not attending church for a couple of years, but God in his faithfulness drew me back to him in my early twenties. And I’m grateful that He pursues us.

Cheryl:  Looking back over your walk with Jesus, can you share with us about a season of life in which you most felt His love for you? In what ways did He physically demonstrate how much He cared for you during that time?

Wanda:  One of those times for me would be when I desperately wanted a career change and to everyone around it made no sense to walk away. However, I dug into God’s Word believing that He could provide good for me even in this small place. I wanted to know that He was God of the little town just as much as the big city, and it wasn’t necessary to move off to see his goodness. And God proved himself to me. I saw a job announcement for a position just a day before it was to close, and I applied. After being interviewed and hired for the position that was advertised as  a 3-year grant-funded position, I find myself still there today. My job duties have changed, but God has kept me there and even used a skill I wanted to let go coupled with a degree I went back to school for.

Cheryl:  Who are your spiritual heroes of the faith? Who has most inspired you on your Christian journey?

Wanda:  One person who has inspired me is my older sister, I have seen her walk through the things I didn’t even know existed in churches. While she was shaken for a season, she continues to remain assured of God’s promises. I want confident faith like hers. She always challenges me to see God in the smallest of things.

Cheryl:  When did you begin blogging at The Watered Soul? What do you believe to be the most important thing God wants to accomplish through your blog?

Wanda:  I started my blog, The Watered Soul, in 2010. To this day I am amazed that it even exists. I didn’t know what a blog was, and I have never been one to talk much. It all started as a  way to process my thoughts as I walked through a particularly dry season of my life. I wanted desperately to see and experience what I heard other Christians talking about, but somehow I felt I was missing. I believe God wants others that come to The Watered Soul to know we all have searched and will search for something or someone to feel the empty places in our lives, but He alone fills. I hope they see that I’m just a person trying to find my way. I make no pretense that I have all the answers. But I trust in Jesus, who is our answer.

Cheryl:  Psalm 37:4 says, "Delight thyself also in the LORD; and He shall give thee the desires of thine heart." Will you share with us about a desire you are still waiting for God to fulfill in your life? How do you remain hopeful during the waiting process?

Wanda:  As an older, still single adult, there is the desire to be married, and honestly I struggle at times to remain hopeful. I wonder if I missed my moment by being consumed with education or other things.

Cheryl:  What are you most passionate about? What ministry endeavor most fulfills you? If you could choose any line of Christian service to be involved in full-time, what would you most like to do?

Wanda:  I have always had a love for books, education, and learning. Give me something that relates to researching, teaching, administration, or technology, and I can get lost for hours. I’m definitely a behind the scenes type of girl.

Cheryl:  Can you tell us about Kingdom Advantrix and the services you offer?

Wanda:  Kingdom Advantrix is my freelance business where I provide assistance with blog set up/design, newsletter setup, or one-on-one help to other bloggers. It grew out my love for handling the back-end of blog administration. The business is all about helping other Christians advance the Kingdom through technology. The name was inspired by God, and I had no idea what Adantrix meant. However, when I looked up the the suffix “trix” I was so surprised to see one definition is a female that does or is associated with a specified thing. I am woman who is associated with advancing God’s kingdom through technology. Many people of faith have a desire to share the good news but are not comfortable with the tech side. It’s my mission to help close the gap.

Cheryl:  One of the blogs you have been instrumental in designing is "Blogs by Christian Women". We would love to hear more about this community and what it represents. How can we get involved? 

Wanda:  Yes, I started out volunteering as the Design Manager for Blogs by Christian Women, and at the end of last year, I took over ownership of the site. BCW aims to connect Christian women bloggers and showcase the unique voices of fellow sisters in Christ. There are several ways to get involved. We hope to be a resource for women who are looking to connect with other Christian bloggers, through our directory. So we encourage any women who are Christians that blog to get listed. We just rolled out a new directory. For those who like to share their story, we accept guest post submissions and are looking for regular contributors. I’m also seeking to form an Editorial Board. Anyone interested can feel free to contact me.

Cheryl:  You are an avid reader and often share book reviews on your blog, The Watered Soul. How do you choose which books you would like to invest time in reading?

Wanda:  Oh, how I love books, and it has gotten harder and harder to choose which to give my time and attention especially since joining book review programs and receiving requests from authors. My first criteria is if it’s a topic I think I would enjoy. I don’t want reading a book to become drudgery. Second, does the author’s timetable fit within my time constraints? Also, I have a desire to help showcase Christ-centered books. Many books I read and never share on the blog because it doesn’t fit within my blog’s theme.

Cheryl:  If you could go back and change or re-do any chapter of your life, which one would it be? Why?

Wanda:  Do I have some regrets in life? Certainly. However, I don’t think they grant a do-over. All of my experiences have made me into the woman, I am today. Some lessons I wish didn’t take me so long to learn.

Cheryl:  Will you share with us about a particularly dark place you have walked through? How did your faith in God sustain you? What most encouraged you during that time? 

Wanda:  One of the darkest moments for me was walking through a betrayal in a relationship. I remember many drives to college campus with tear-stained prayers of, "God, don’t let this make me bitter, but better". I wanted to forgive because that is what God’s Word said I should do, but I didn’t feel it in my heart. Clinging to key scriptures and repeating them along with that simple prayer and being honest with God about where I was at helped me. I knew I didn’t have to pretend or keep a happy face with him.

Cheryl:  Who is the one person you feel most indebted to? Why? How has their influence shaped and molded your life? What attribute do they possess that you most admire?

Wanda:  Beyond God, I would say I’m most indebted to my mother. She has faithfully shown up for me and modeled faith and resilience in the face of obstacles. It was her that ensured that I had a rich spiritual foundation.

Cheryl:  What are your favorite "go-to" Scriptures? Can you recommend other sources of encouragement? (Books, hymns, other resources, etc.) 

Wanda:  I find that my favorite Scriptures tend to change depending upon the season I am going through, but my blog’s foundational scripture of Isaiah 58:11 (And the LORD will continually guide you, And satisfy your desire in scorched places, And give strength to your bones; And you will be like a watered garden, And like a spring of water whose waters do not fail) remains a favorite. In times of trouble, I find encouragement in Isaiah 43:2. When I’m feeling alone, I’m reminded of Psalms 68:2, "God sets the lonely in families, He leads out the prisoners with singing; but the rebellious live in a sun-scorched land". And, at other times, I find comfort in the old songs the ladies would sing at my church when I was child like, "Hold to God’s Unchanging Hand". I didn’t understand the words then, but, oh, what meaning they have now!

Cheryl:  Name three things on your bucket list that are closest to your heart.

Wanda:  I don’t have a bucket list per se, but I would love to be able to travel to each of the 50 states. And I always wanted to have a scholarship fund to help send children to college.

Cheryl:  How can we pray for you?

Wanda:  Pray for wisdom, favor, and provision as I lead this online ministry at Blogs by Christian Women. Pray that I would be connected to the right people and the right leaders at this time in my life. And that I have the courageous faith to follow where God leads me.

Amen, and amen!
Wanda's prayer request is one that echoes the cry of so many of our hearts.
Thank you ever so much for sharing your inner views with us here, Wanda.
Your presence is such a dear blessing to us all!

Please keep Wanda and her prayer requests on your minds and hearts, dear readers,
and, if you get a chance, please go by and visit her blog and consider becoming a subscriber.
Please keep her technical help in mind for any future blogging issues or website needs.
She has been a huge blessing to me, and her rates are very reasonable.
Her heart and main focus is in serving God and His people, and it shows.

May God bless each and every one of you in a special way!

To read previous
click the links below.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

The Inner Views of Lyli Dunbar

"For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and Him crucified."
I Corinthians 2:2

I never tire of reading about and listening to the life stories of those who have been redeemed
by the blood of Jesus.
And, I never cease to be blessed by the precious souls I have met through this amazing and wonderful world of blogging.
The dear blogging friend who is sharing her heart with us today is one of those special people
whose path has crossed mine, while blogging.

Each week on Thursday, she hosts a link-up on her blog,
and I try to head over to add whatever God has recently inspired me to write.
She writes straight from her heart, and we are all so blessed to draw from the depths of wisdom
that spring forth from her writing, inspired from her own life experiences and personal pain.

If you don't know her already, you are going to love getting to know her today.

With joy and gratitude, I bring to you the 
Disciple, Wife, Educator, Mentor, Writer, Social Media Manager,
Lover of Stories & Chocolate,
Lyli Dunbar.

Cheryl:  Can you tell us about your childhood?

Lyli:  My parents are Cuban immigrants. Mom and Dad came to the States alone as teenagers, shipped off to freedom out of the clutches of Communism by their sacrificial parents who stayed behind. They met on a street corner in Long Island, New York and married two years later. My birth was a traumatic one, and my dad learned to drive a car in order to transport his baby girl with the deformed right leg to endless doctor’s appointments in the big city. I was fitted with a prosthetic leg, but walk with a marked limp as my right hip joint never fully developed. 

We moved to the warmer climate of South Florida just after my 5th birthday. My maternal grandparents had escaped Cuba in time for the wedding and followed my parents to the Sunshine State about a year after our arrival. They served as a stabilizing force in my childhood and always lived right around the corner. 

Despite being “born special,” my childhood was idyllic. Mom and Dad never did quite get around to having more babies, so I had the undivided love and attention of my “familia.” Mom worked her way back to school and became a CPA, and dad found his niche as a process server. They scrapped together a nest egg to buy a little house on a lake, and we spent many Saturdays treading water and telling stories there in the backyard or at the beach. My mom also passed along to me her love of reading -- we devoured all the Agatha Christie and Ellery Queen mysteries. 

Cheryl:  How old were you when you became a Christian? What led you to take that step? Is there a particular person who has most influenced you in your walk with Jesus?

Lyli:  When I finished elementary school, my parents decided I’d picked up some undesirable habits and vocabulary in public school and determined I’d attend a private high school. A drinking buddy of my Dad’s shared that his girls went to a Christian school not too far from home. Mom had attended a Presbyterian boarding school in Cuba, and she loved the idea of my getting a religious education. Soon, I was attending a daily Bible class at a Baptist school and participating in weekly chapel services. Not long after, I jumped out of my seat in the balcony of the church sanctuary in response to an altar call. The chapel speaker shared the Gospel in a way that awakened my heart to the reality that I was a sinner, and I was overwhelmed to realize that Christ had died on the cross to pay the penalty for my sins. I deserved hell, but God was extending grace to me. I surrendered my all to Jesus and never looked back. For the next 6 years, I learned to walk after Christ by following the example of my passionate teachers. Their impact changed the course of my life. Four years later, I returned to the same building as a teacher myself. 

Cheryl:  We would love to hear your love story. How did you and your husband meet? Was it love at first sight? When did you realize he was “the one” for you?

Lyli:  I spent 17 years serving in the high school trenches as a teacher. My days were filled with grading papers, chaperoning Friday night football games, and coordinating youth group slumber parties. I never married. I’d had a crush or two, but my Boaz never surfaced. I continued to pray about marriage, but I tried not to put life on hold while I waited. I wanted to keep growing, so I earned a doctorate degree, pursued short-term missions on my summers off, and joined a wonderful women’s Bible study group. I focused on loving and serving my family, my church, and my “kids.”

Then, after two decades of planting seeds in the same orchard, God decided to uproot me and cultivate new fruit. I accepted a position at a small Christian college that catered to middle-aged adults seeking to complete their college degree at night. I moved to a new church and joined a singles’ Bible study. 

I didn’t picture life changing so radically, but God loves to shake things up and surprise us. 

In the midst of my new normal, I volunteered to decorate a Christmas tree for a needy family at the church. I showed up after a long work day to put tinsel on a fake evergreen and never realized that choosing to serve that night would radically change the direction of my life. 

The singles pastor sent an email to everyone asking for volunteers, and I remember praying as I hit the send button with my reply: “Lord, let that guy Bruce be there. He seems like a nice guy, and I’d love to get to know him.”

I’d prayed crazy prayers like this many times. God in His mercy had always protected me from my love-struck foolish requests.

I’d prayed crazy prayers like this many times, which is why I am fairly certain my mouth dropped open when I arrived at the church to decorate the tree with 3 other girls and Bruce. 

I drove home smiling like I’d swallowed sunshine. “Lord, Bruce was there. Now what?” 

Thankfully, Bruce was Boaz personified, so he purposefully pursued. I continued to pray, and God filled my heart with peace that this man was the one. 

Cheryl:  What are you most passionate about? What fulfills you most?

Lyli:  I love a good story. I love telling stories, reading stories, and writing stories. I find great fulfillment in seeing how God is at work in lives of those I rub shoulders with every day and encouraging them to keep the faith. 

Cheryl:  Looking back over your life, what do you consider to be your darkest season? How did your faith in God see you through those difficult days?

Lyli:  I thought I knew what spiritual warfare was when I worked in youth ministry, but then I got married. I’ve learned that the enemy of my soul hates my marriage and loves to try to disrupt the peace of my home. Over the course of my seven years of marriage, we’ve faced one sucker punch after another. I’ve learned that limps are not just physical; sometimes we are limping along inside where no one sees. 

My most difficult battle truly was when I struggled with clinical anxiety and depression after a medical crisis in 2012. I’d faced dark days before, but during this season my mind and body were at war with my spirit. It’s hard to keep fighting when you can’t see the light at the end of a very dark tunnel. I fought hard every day to flood my mind with God’s promises and to continue to pray, even though I wasn’t “feeling it,” or seeing any visible results. I wrote daily in my spiritual journal – a habit I started during college. Looking back at those pages now, I see how God was clearly speaking to me through the verses I recorded. At the time, I didn’t recognize His voice, but He was walking with me step by step through the darkness. 

Cheryl:  What is your greatest strength? How does God use that trait to help others?

Lyli:  My spiritual gifts are teaching and encouraging. I am a natural cheerleader, and I love to help others keep pressing forward as they pursue Christ in faith. 

Cheryl:  Do you consider yourself an introvert or extrovert?

Lyli:  I am an extrovert, but I’ve learned to adapt to the introverted lifestyle. Before I got married, I lived alone for close to twenty years. I don’t shy away from solitude, and I love getting lost in a good book. This makes my task oriented, introverted husband very happy. However, by nature, I thrive in community. I find great joy in having friends over for dinner and lingering at the table to talk. 

Cheryl:  What is the most exciting ministry you have had the privilege of becoming involved in? 

Lyli:  Currently, I mentor women who facilitate online Bible studies through It’s a joy to encourage women as they dig into the Word in community. The LGG studies are translated into several languages, and their free Bible study materials help women all over the world grow in wisdom. 

Cheryl:  Tell us about your blog, 3dlessons4life. What prompted you to start blogging? How did you decide upon the name of your blog? How has blogging impacted and enriched your life? Where do you find inspiration for blog posts? Is there a particular place you like to go to write?

Lyli:  I started blogging in 2010 after I had a miscarriage. Just 4 months into my marriage, we lost our little one, and I was so confused and sad. A former student reached out to me on Facebook and shared her infertility story. She introduced me to the blog world, and I found healing in reading the authentic stories that brave women were sharing online. I decided to start sharing my story in hopes of encouraging others on their faith journey. 

When I first started blogging, I wanted to stay true to my teaching roots and title my blog “Lessons for Life,” but that was already taken. I added the “3-D” in front of it on a whim. My husband’s business is nicknamed 3-D, and it’s a phrase that we use often at Casa Dunbar. When I moved my blog to, I had to decide if I wanted to change the name of the blog. I prayed about keeping 3-D Lessons for Life or tossing it for a new “revamped title.” As I thought about who I am and what my space on the web had become, the Lord impressed on me that the phrase “3-D” needed to stay. God has called me to live a fully-dimensional faith. That’s the focus of my life and why I write about life lessons. I want to pursue Christ with all my heart, soul, and mind. Living a “3-D faith” means that I’m:

• committed to growing intimacy with Christ

• charged to affirm others and walk in community

• called to reach out in love and live a life of service

This 3-fold focus was birthed in my heart through studying Paul’s prayer:

“My response is to get down on my knees before the Father, this magnificent Father who parcels out all heaven and earth.  I ask Him to strengthen you by His Spirit—not a brute strength but a glorious inner strength—that Christ will live in you as you open the door and invite Him in.  And I ask Him that with both feet planted firmly on love, you’ll be able to take in with all followers of Jesus the extravagant dimensions of Christ’s love.  Reach out and experience the breadth!  Test its length! Plumb the depths! Rise to the heights!  Live full lives, full in the fullness of God.”  Ephesians 3:14-19, MSG

I’ve met so many amazing women online through blogging, and I love that I now have friends all over the world. Blogging has deepened my love for community. I can share Christ with others from my living room and truly make a difference. How amazing is that?

I write about how God speaks to me through my every day experiences. When I am struggling for a topic, I usually either tune into worship music on the radio, or I read Eugene Peterson’s The Message until I am inspired by a metaphor or word picture. 

I recently purchased an inexpensive small table to use as a writing desk and rearranged some furniture to create a space that is all mine by a window. I love sitting there and looking out at the lake behind our home. I hope to write many stories in this spot, but in reality, I write anywhere I am when the inspiration hits – at work on my lunch hour and in bed with my laptop while Bruce snores happily beside me are two other spots you will often find me. 

Cheryl:  Is there a cause you care deeply about and would like to introduce us to? 

Lyli:  Many people never fully recover their joy and passion after losing a loved one. Over the last 7 years, Bruce and I have dwelled in the valley of grief multiple times. I’ve learned that I do not need to walk this road alone. Free support is available through a wonderful ministry called GriefShare

GriefShare grief recovery support groups meet throughout the US, Canada, and in over 10 other countries. They also provide daily e-mail encouragement. You can locate a group or signup to receive their e-mail here.

Cheryl:  At the end of your life, what do you most hope to leave behind? What legacy do you most long to create as you walk this journey?

Lyli:  I pray that my life will point others to the freedom that is found in Christ. When my life is over, I hope others will say she loved like Jesus with every fiber of her being.

Cheryl:  On your bucket list, what have you already experienced and accomplished? What do you yet hope to do?

Lyli:  I enjoyed going on short-term missions trips to Cuzco, Peru and Creve, Haiti in 2004 and 2009. Both of these trips helped me to understand how important it is to share the Gospel with boldness. 

I hope to write a book about how we can overcome the crippling circumstances in our lives. God longs to transform our limps into a launching pad for His glory as we step forward with renewed faith, roll into His sure-footed strength, and rise above our brokenness and pain. 

Cheryl:  Who do you consider to be your biggest hero? What person in your life would you most like to emulate?

Lyli:  I’m a huge Beth Moore fan. I love her passion for studying God’s Word and her heart for encouraging women. 

My “American mom” and mentor is my friend Janet Yates. She was my teacher in high school, and then my supervisor when I started teaching. Today, she is a good friend. I love her authenticity and appreciate her wisdom. She isn’t scared to tell you the truth, but she always speaks with love. 

Cheryl:  How do you personally stay encouraged? Are there specific Bible verses, songs, books, or other resources that you turn to in times of discouragement?

Lyli:  I find great encouragement from reading the book of Psalms and Proverbs. During difficult times, I will pray through passages daily during my quiet time. This past spring, my husband spent 10 days in the hospital battling pneumonia, and I prayed Psalm 91 over him daily. 

“Because he holds fast to me in love, I will deliver him; I will protect him, because he knows my name. When he calls to me, I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will rescue him and honor him. With long life I will satisfy him and show him my salvation” (vs 14-16 ESV).

I’m a huge book nerd. Other women buy shoes, but I buy books. I have stacks of half-read books all around the house. A book that really ministered to me during a dark season is As Silver Refined by Kay Arthur. She encourages her readers to view disappointments as “His appointments.” 

When I am going through a valley season, I always have music playing. Now that I have a fancy phone, I can carry my Bible and worship music with me wherever I go. 

Cheryl:  How can we pray for you now?

Lyli:  I have a close family member who is not a Christ follower. I’ve prayed daily for this loved one for close to four decades. I like to call this person my “tough cookie,” so pray for Bruce and I to continue to love him sacrificially as we wait for his heart to soften.

Lyli Dunbar enjoys road trips with her husband, connecting with women through Bible study, and reading way too many books. She shares how everyday experiences help flesh out her faith at 3-D Lessons for Life. A disciple, wife, educator, and mentor, Lyli is just a girl working to keep the faith day by day. She serves as Social Media Manager for Missional Women and is a contributor at Start Marriage Right and Daily Devo
You can also connect with Lyli on Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, and Facebook.

A huge thank you to Lyli for sharing such amazing insight and encouragement with us here!
I know her words will touch and bless the heart of every reader.

We appreciate you, Lyli, and you are such a blessing to us all!
God bless you abundantly, in return!

Please remember to add Lyli's family member to your prayer lists, dear friends.
"Wherefore He is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by Him, 
seeing He ever liveth to make intercession for them."
Hebrews 7:25
What a comfort to know that Jesus Christ is interceding for this "tough cookie",
right alongside Lyli and Bruce!

In the words of Lindsay Huggins, there is nothing He can't redeem!

If video doesn't load, click here.

Praise His name, as long as there is life, there is hope.
Let us pray on until the answer comes!

To read previous
click the links below.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

The Inner Views of Michele Morin

"For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord."
Romans 8:38,39

I love to read blogs written by bloggers who dig deep into the Word of God.
Each time I visit the blog written by the dear lady being interviewed in this post,
I find encouragement and a depth of rich, spiritual insight.
So many times, she has stopped by here and left a kind comment that has boosted my spirits
and given me courage to keep pressing forward on this blogging journey.
It is with so much joy I share her interview with you today!

Michele is wife to a patient husband, Mum to four young men and a daughter-in-love, and, now, Gram to one adorable grandboy.  Her days are spent homeschooling, reading piles of books, and, in the summer, tending their beautiful (but messy) garden and canning the vegetables. She loves to teach the Bible and is privileged to gather weekly around a table with the women of her church and to blog at Living Our Days about the grace she is receiving and the lessons from God’s Word that she is trusting.

And, now I gratefully share with you, the 
Michele Morin.

Cheryl:  Please tell us about yourself.  

Michele:  I’m a 53 year old mum to four guys who get taller and smarter everyday, and raising them has been job one for the past twenty two years. For twenty six years, I’ve been married to an unreasonably patient man, learning what it means to be “heirs together of the grace of life". Unbelievably, I still discover new qualities to appreciate about him -- God’s greatest gift to me. We live on a country hill in Maine, and every summer I plant a big garden that keeps me well-entertained – and keeps our family in green beans, spaghetti sauce, pickles, etc. for the year. Our church family is located in a small fishing village about a half hour east of us. They’ve loved us well, we’ve raised our kids together, my oldest son met his wife there, and the ladies join me in studying the Word of God in Sunday School and in our Ladies Missionary Fellowship group which has been meeting since the days when we met for lunch and rolled bandages for “the War.”

Michele's four sons in 2010

Michele's sweet grandson, Raymond

Cheryl:  How did you meet your husband?  To what do you credit the longevity of your marriage?

Michele:  The patient husband and I met at a Child Evangelism Fellowship teacher training class. We were friends for years, and I was happily single – really not expecting to get married. We called our dates “friendship appointments,” but, to my surprise, we fell in love, and it was clear that God wanted us together. We’ve weathered some rough days together: the deaths of three of our parents and one of his sisters, the pull and haul of raising a family and managing a home, but I am blessed to report that marriage has been a lightener of the load. I was asked once, years ago, by a friend who had known me in my independent, career-oriented single days how I managed to live at peace in my role as a wife and mum. The words that floated to the surface then are still true today: Trusting God and trusting my husband.

Michele and her husband, Calvin, on their happy wedding day

Cheryl:  What led you to homeschooling?  How many years have you homeschooled?  To the mother who is considering beginning a homeschooling journey, what advice can you offer?

Michele:  When I played with dolls as a little girl, I was never their mother. I was always either their nurse or their teacher, so homeschooling for our family came as a natural consequence of all the “teaching” that happened when our boys were tiny. We just sort of grew into it. Now, seventeen years later, we see that by homeschooling we have given our children the gift of control over their time. With only my husband’s work schedule to accommodate, we were able to have a family breakfast with morning devotions, to emphasize music and creativity as part of their daily learning, and each of the boys has had the opportunity to learn a trade along with college preparatory course work in high school. (My youngest starts high school this year, and I expect he will do the same.) In the early years it was wonderful to have everyone home together, to be able to have a little more control over outside influences, but here’s the thing: it’s crucial that we not make decisions about our children out of fear. Homeschooling is hard work, and fear is not strong enough to carry a busy mum through the commitment, daily sacrifices, and time pressure that comes with teaching children at home.

Cheryl:  As a long-time homeschooling mother, what would you define as your most difficult moment?  During that time, how did you find strength to continue?

Michele:  As a homeschooling mother the word that comes to my mind first when I think about homeschooling is: HARD! It takes preparation and planning, and then the daily routine can feel a little bit like a straightjacket. My boys span eight years, so there were only five years in which all four of them were in school together, but they’re a rowdy crew. I’m sure that there are boys out there who enjoy polishing a sentence until it shines or pondering the amazing relationships among numbers that math reveals – but not my boys. My most difficult moments in homeschooling have been when I have forgotten that I am teaching children – not subjects. I still battle perfectionism and impatience almost every day. Having said that, we have wonderful memories of reading books aloud together, lots of hands-on learning, and days of blessed chaos and togetherness.

Cheryl:  What is the most important thing we should teach our children in this modern age?

Michele:  My husband and I have tried to remind our children that whatever they have in their hand, God will use. This honors their uniqueness, and it also encourages them to strive to refine their gifts, to have lots of good things “in their hands”: not so that they can become proud or self-centered, but so that they can offer them back to God in service and in love.

Cheryl:  If you could go back and change one thing about your life, thus far, what would it be?

Michele:  I’m a slow learner, so I’ve pretty much been working on one lesson for my entire life. It has impacted everything I’ve ever done, and it’s this: The importance of valuing relationships over tasks. I was a machine in college, working several jobs and pushing, always pushing for excellent grades. I burned a lot of bridges, and even as a mum I’ve missed a lot of eye contact and focused listening that I would like to go back and re-capture. Even so, I’m thankful for the mentors God has provided along the way, for the patience and grace of a husband who consistently reminds me that our boys are my priority – not the house work or ministry or any of the other idols I manufacture.

Cheryl:  When did you become a Christian?  What life events led you to make the decision to follow Jesus?

Michele:  When I was in junior high, I began attending Sunday School somewhat regularly and my teacher had just come home from a year of Bible college. She took us through the book of James, and I realized that everything James said about needing wisdom from above and the futility of controlling my tongue in my own strength was TRUE. I didn’t follow the Lord consistently at first, but God placed faithful people like sign posts along my path – and He used the hot fires and deep water of living in a family that was shaped by alcoholism and mental illness to strengthen and refine what He had begun.

Cheryl:  So many times, I have come to your blog seeking encouragement, and I have found Scriptural depths that have fed and nourished my soul.  Can you describe how the Lord reveals His mind to you concerning blog posts?  Is there a certain place you like to go to find His inspiration?

Michele:  I’m convinced that the Lord speaks to us through His Word. If we say that we want to hear His voice but do not put ourselves in regular contact with the primary means by which He has promised to communicate, we’re only kidding ourselves. It is my responsibility to “show up,” to hold myself before the mirror of God’s written Word and to bask in the miracle of His unwavering attention. Most of what I write comes as a result of whatever I’m learning. I want to challenge my readers to push themselves beyond biblical literacy and into biblical fluency! When I’m teaching a series to my Sunday morning women, I have usually published a weekly blog post for them – and for whoever else happens to read it. Regular reading and studying for a blogger are like finger exercises for a musician. They strengthen and build skill so that when it is time to play a piece of challenging music, the raw material is there.

Cheryl:  When did you begin blogging?  What is the main objective of your blog?  How has blogging enriched your life?

Michele:  My pastor invited me to write guest posts for our church’s blog, and the idea of starting a blog of my own began from there. I’ve just finished my second year of blogging at Living Our Days, a phrase I borrowed from a statement by Annie Dillard: “The way we live our days will be, after all, the way we live our life.” I’ve carried that quote in my heart for most of my mothering years, because I struggled so in the early years when I came to the end of the day exhausted, yet feeling as if I had accomplished nothing. Learning to value the daily development of relationships with my boys, to slow down and be thankful for hummingbirds and the flapping of clean sheets on the clothesline and papier-mache Viking hats perched on four precious heads was a daily discipline for me. With that in mind, I write about the intersection of family life and theology. I review Christian books that encourage (mostly) women to become all that God wants us to be. Blogging has enriched my life in two ways: first, it has provided accountability for my writing. Second, it has introduced me to a community of writers and thinkers who consistently challenge me to step outside my comfort zone and to press on in this life of believingly following Jesus Christ.

Cheryl:  What is your passion?  What fulfills you most?

Michele:  Isaiah 58 with its challenge to “extend my soul” to the needy has long been a favorite passage. It promises renewal in times of drought which I know applies to the people of Israel in exile, but as a child of God, adopted into Abraham’s line, I experience God’s work of “bone strengthening” and “garden-watering”, and especially appreciate the truth of verse 12: “You shall raise up the foundations of many generations; And you shall be called the Repairer of the Breach, the Restorer of Streets to Dwell In.” Somewhere along the way I heard someone loosely translate that last phrase as “the rebuilder of paths leading home.” This is my passion in this season of my life. I am past the mid-point in my parenting days with my third and fourth sons both in high school, but my investment in all four boys will go on and even though there was estrangement and alienation in my family of origin, I am trusting God for a new beginning with our boys in which the path leading home will always be open.

Cheryl:  What is your favorite thing about being a grandmother?  Can you tell us about your grandson and how he brightens your life?

Michele:  I consider myself to be still a “Grandmother in Training” since we have just one grandson, and he’s not quite two, but what a joy that little brown-eyed boy has been! Best of all, he provides one more way in which we can help and support our son and his sweet wife. We want to be available for counsel and babysitting, to pray with and for them, to teach and train that little guy in righteousness alongside his parents. Whenever I review children’s books, he definitely has input to the process in some way!

Cheryl:  You often do book reviews on your blog.  Can you share with us about some of your favorite books?  Are there certain books that you have felt a desire to read more than once? 

Michele:  I could talk about books and authors all day! I have gone through lots of “phases” in my reading life, but running through all of them has been a return to certain authors who have been “book mentors” to me. For instance, Luci Shaw and Madeleine L’Engle have inspired me with the beauty of their writing and the great care they take in the formation of every sentence. If I have any iron in my soul at all, it is likely because Elisabeth Elliot’s words have galvanized me in the pursuit of God. I used to read a lot more widely than I do now: lots and lots of fiction, random biographies, memoirs, history. However, about five years ago, I began to look at my reading time as an investment – I really don’t have much time to read during the day (although, as the boys become more independent, that is changing), so I wanted to be more intentional in my choices of reading material. I started reading books by John Piper and other theologians, and somewhere along the way I started blogging and learned that I could review books for publishers. The only thing more satisfying than reading a great book is the fun of talking about it and sharing it with others. One of my goals as a reader and as a blogger is to transition from reading so many new books so that I will have more time to read and to share some ancient classics with my readers.

Cheryl:  In the church today, we are involved in a continual cultural war against evil.  Iniquity is abounding, as Jesus prophesied it would.  How can we overcome the prevalent evil with good?  What are some things you do, on a personal level, to make a positive difference?  

Michele:  When I think about the climate of evil on this planet, I am tempted to feel helpless – that there’s nothing I can do about something so pervasive. Then I remember that I have influence in my small world – that one day (sooner than I like to think about) there will be four more “Morin families” headed by men that my husband and I have trained and loved. Strong families make for strong churches, and we need to follow the example of the early church in our commitment to demonstrate that “God is truly among” us (I Cor. 14:25).

Cheryl:  What encouragement can you offer the reader who is tired from the intense fight against wrong?  How do you personally stay encouraged to press on in the face of increasing opposition to holiness in our culture?  What are some of your favorite Scripture verses, hymns, and other sources of encouragement?

Michele:  Amy Carmichael, missionary to India in the late 1800’s and into the early 1900’s was vexed at being delayed in her journey to India. The boat was docked en route for several days, and she marveled that her traveling companion and senior missionary colleague was taking it all in stride so well. The wise woman’s words to Amy became a byword for her for the rest of her ministry whenever things did not go as expected: “God knows all about the boats.” I try to remember this, for I am guilty of praying “prescriptive” prayers to the God of the universe, telling Him how He should handle matters both big and small. When our boys were just entering the teen years, I often felt overwhelmed by the many “new” influences that found their way into our home. I pictured myself flung, spread-eagle and wild-eyed against a bulging door, trying to hold out evil. This was NOT a helpful mindset! The majestic words of Romans 8, the reminder from Psalm 46 that it is possible to be still in the midst of tumult, great hymns of the faith, remembering the discipline of gratitude: these are key to reminding me that God is sovereign. He “knows all about the boats,” and He knows all about whatever it is that is frightening or worrying or frustrating me on this planet.

Cheryl:  Describe what you consider to be a perfect day.

Michele:  For my husband and me, the most glorious sound on this earth is the laughter of our boys when they are all together. Anything that we do as a family ends up being the perfect day, which is surprising because my boys continually push me out of my comfort zone. Recently, we paddled our way TEN MILES down a river. It was beautiful, but I was a wreck, worrying about the fading daylight, the fallen trees and rock outcroppings that formed an underwater obstacle course to challenge our paddling prowess. I do love being outdoors, and when there is a free minute, a cup of tea, a book, my journal, and a sunny spot on our country hill . . . ahhh!

Cheryl:  Can you tell us about SheLoves Magazine?  What is your personal involvement in this ministry?  What is (in)courage?  How can our readers become involved and participate?

Michele:  For me, blogging has been a community affair right from the beginning. Before I even considered writing myself, I was enjoying the inspirational offerings of other bloggers through gatherings such as SheLoves Magazine and (in)courage. I was much too timid to comment at first, but read faithfully, and eventually felt led to comment on posts that spoke to me. Good conversations came from that (heart-pounding) risk-taking, and one day I mustered up my courage and started submitting my own words as guest posts here and there. I cherish the diversity of these communities, and my thoughts are continually challenged by writers whose geography, race, age, faith traditions are different from my own.

Cheryl:  How can we pray for you at this current season of life?

Michele:  It is my deepest desire to finish well in this parenting journey, to continue to build into my boys, and to be faithful in giving them roots and wings. As they grow and become more independent, I’m trusting for wisdom to know how to use my time and to be disciplined in study so that my writing and my teaching will be grounded in Truth.

What a noble desire and request for prayer, Michele!
A big thank you for this wonderful interview.
It was so nice to get to know you better.
You are such a blessing to us all!

Be sure to go by and check out Michele's blog and consider becoming a subscriber,
and please do keep Michele and her requests in your prayers.

God bless you, and thank you so much for reading, dear friends!

To read previous
click the links below.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

The Inner Views of Holly Barrett

"For Thou art my hope, O Lord GOD:  Thou art my trust from my youth."
Psalm 71:5

Nearly every Tuesday, I slip over to the blog of a sweet, precious sister in the Lord,
and I link up one of my latest blog posts.
While there, I find needed encouragement, and I leave refreshed in spirit.

Many of you already know and love her, but for those who may not have met her yet,
I am so happy to introduce her to you today!

Holly Solomon Barrett is a Jesus-following minster, writer, mother and YaYa from NC. Holly is a survivor of domestic violence and has served churches for more than 20 years in a variety of volunteer and staff ministry roles. She currently serves as Director of Communications for the ministry of The Crossnore School in the beautiful Blue Ridge mountains, where she daily shares the stories of children finding hope and healing. Holly writes at Reclaiming A Redeemed Life and podcasts weekly at Living A Redeemed Life. She enjoys teaching and speaking opportunities wherever they may arise, sharing the story of redemption available to all. Holly has two adult children, one son-in-love, and three of the most beautiful grandchildren ever. 

With gratitude, I present to you the
Minister, Writer, Mother, and Grandmother, 
Holly Barrett.

Cheryl:  What was your childhood like?

Holly:  I grew up in the 60’s and 70’s. It was definitely a different time. Like most mothers at that time, my mom stayed home with my brother and me. We walked to school. We went to church. We rode in cars without seat belts! My dad was a minister, and so much of our life was spent within the church and actually in the church building. Mom went back to work when I was about 10. So at a young age, I learned to do a lot around the house…cooking, laundry, cleaning, etc. By the time I was a teenager, my dad had retired from the ministry, so we finally stayed in one place longer than 2 years! My brother and I finished junior and senior high school at the same place we started! We continued to be active in church of course, and I had jobs, boyfriends, and great friends from that time period. I’m still in touch with my four best friends from high school. Honestly, I have to say it wasn’t as idyllic as it sounds. Being a minister’s family is hard, and it was really hard back then. My dad was often the only staff person and thus, the only one everyone called for whatever needed to be done. He was gone a lot. And suffice it to say that I had a rebellious streak as a teen. The most formative thing for me was not growing up in a grace-oriented church where I soon realized that I wouldn’t measure up. So if I wasn’t going to measure up anyway, why bother trying to keep all the rules? I have great memories from my childhood and teen years…but I’m really glad that part of my life is behind me! 

Cheryl:  When you were growing up, what did you most want to be?

Holly:  A writer and a teacher. And a wife and a mom.

Cheryl:  When did you become a Christian? What were the circumstances surrounding you turning your life over to Christ? 

Holly:  Well, now that is two separate questions! I became a Christian and was baptized when I was almost 19 at the beginning of my freshman year in college. I was involved in a very large campus ministry at a state university. The next 12 to 13 years were filled with major ups and downs! So the answer to the second question is that I finally turned it all over to Him around age 32 when I got divorced and became a single mom of two littles. There is something about feeling like a failure that makes you willing to give up control! But it was more than apparent when I turned my life back to Him that He had been waiting the entire time and was ready to heal and redeem all the years the locusts had eaten (Joel 2:27).

Cheryl:  What inspired you to begin blogging? Tell us about Reclaiming A Redeemed Life

Holly:  My dream to be a writer had never died. There were many years when I hardly had time to read a book, let alone figure out how to write even a paragraph. But as my children grew up and left the nest, my hours were suddenly much more free. By then blogging was a thing. and I started reading blogs. It wasn’t long before I thought, well I could do that! So I built my first blog on Blogspot, wrote a few posts, and let it sit there until I gathered up the courage to hit publish. My first blog was a ministry-related blog. I was doing women’s ministry then, and wrote to encourage and inform the women at my church. That was in 2009. In 2012, I went through some training with Amy Carroll at Next Step Speaker Services as God was directing me to step out into my own blog that wasn’t connected to a particular ministry. So Reclaiming A Redeemed Life was born. I write about faith, family, and spiritual life lessons we can learn in the every day. I’m passionate about Scripture and the application of it in our lives. And I want to encourage everyone to live in the redemption that is ours on the day we are saved. That leads us to the abundant life Jesus promised in John 10:10. Also turns out that God really knows what He is doing, because in the same year that I started my own blog separate from a ministry blog, I got laid off from my church staff position. Love how He always prepares us for what’s coming next!

Cheryl:  What was the darkest time of your life? How did your faith in God sustain you during this time? What advice would you give to the reader who is now going through a similar trial? 

Holly:  There have been several. My divorce was the right thing to do to protect my children and myself, as my former spouse was an alcoholic abuser. Children should never grow up in domestic violence. Then there were the several years that I dealt with a serious stronghold of sin and received a huge light bulb moment in Scripture that catapulted my recovery journey. The year my nephew died in a car accident two weeks before my son graduated high school was a year my family will never forget. And the year I was laid off from a church was especially painful, as I was unemployed for almost a year to the day, and went to live with my daughter and her family for five months. Any one of these things is enough to knock you off your feet and it is only through the grace of God that you get back up. And I’m not sure that my faith didn’t waiver during any of those things…that’s pretty normal, I’d say. But there were several things that sustained me through all of these trials: God’s Word. It is always true. It is always reliable. And when I keep my nose in the Book, my head and my heart have much less chance to wander off on their own. The second thing is community. God’s people are not perfect, but I’ve found they are always present. To pray, to hold my hand, to cry with me, whatever I’ve needed. It is true that community works, and there is no better community than one drawn together by the Spirit of God. I would encourage anyone going through difficulties to find a community that will love and support you, and will also point you to God’s Word and His plan for your life.

Cheryl:  What are you most passionate about? 

Holly:  So many things…my family first. I have two adult children and a son-in-love, along with three grandchildren. Those six people are my very heartbeat. Second, is living in the redemption God gifted me. I don’t ever want to go back to living in captivity or living in a half-life of rules and fear. Jesus set me free, and I want to stay there! And finally, sharing God’s love and His Word with people who don’t know Him. That sounds really ministerial, doesn’t it? But really it’s something we can all do every day in our every day lives. We don’t have to be in a church building or at a worship service or small group. We don’t have to stand on a street corner preaching or walk around with our Bibles to pull out at a moment’s notice. We can simply live our redeemed life every day, trusting God to bring the Divine appointments He chooses into our lives, and being people who care about others. That speaks volumes to the people we meet every day who are hurting and searching.

Cheryl:  Can you tell us about your ministry? When did you first feel the call of God upon your life? What was it like to become an ordained minister? 

Holly:  I never set out to be a minister, since I lived the life of a minister’s kid! But when I came back to the Lord in my early 30’s as my marriage ended, I felt an undeniable call to use my gifts in kingdom service. So I spent 20 years in volunteer ministry, while seeking a full-time paid role. I served in divorce recovery, youth ministry, women’s ministry, and adult education. I finally was hired as a Connections Minister with the responsibilities of guest services & newcomer assimilation, community transformation, women’s ministry, and adult Bible studies. It was a big job, and I loved it. It’s also where God began to challenge my assumptions about ministry and what we do inside the church building vs. outside the building. When you start working in the community, that will happen! Today I work as Director of Communications for the ministry of The Crossnore School. We are a Christian organization providing a group home for children from families in crisis. We have two campuses and currently serve nearly 300 children in different programs including group homes, single-family foster care, adoption, outpatient therapy and medications management, day treatment, and intensive in-home services. It is a privilege every day to tell the stories of the children we serve.

Cheryl:  When are you happiest? What fulfills you the most? 

Holly:  I am happiest when I get my way! Just kidding. Sort of. :-) Isn’t that true for all of us? But I truly find the most joy in being with people…especially my family. There’s no joy like the joy of being a grandma! Or YaYa as my grands call me. I am most fulfilled when I feel like I’m doing exactly what God wants me to do…whether that is in a larger life calling or within a moment where He calls me to be present and serve.

Cheryl:  Describe your current ministry endeavors. What are you involved in now? 

Holly:  Well, my job takes up the majority of my waking hours. But I love it! I am truly getting paid to write now, and it’s awesome! Otherwise, I write a lot and am working on a couple of books. I enjoy conversations with fellow believers on my podcast, Living A Redeemed Life. And I enjoy the occasional opportunity to preach at my church or to speak at conferences or retreats. I’d love more of those opportunities too!

Cheryl:  Who do you credit as being your most influential spiritual mentor? Tell us how this person has enhanced your walk with Jesus. 

Holly:  I don’t think I can choose just one person, but rather three different groups of people. All three were groups of three other women with whom I entered into prayer and accountability relationships during very formative times in my life. The first group was when my children were younger, and I was just beginning to seriously walk with Jesus. The second group was when I was dealing with my own recovery. And the third group was when my children were leaving home, and I was trying to decide what to do with the rest of my life. All three groups of women always kept me moving towards Jesus. They prayed over me, grieved with me, and celebrated breakthroughs. They supported my decisions and were honest enough to tell me the truth in love. I miss them desperately as we have scattered about the state and the country now. I currently live in a tiny town and have had difficulty establishing relationships in a very isolated and insular community. So I look forward to the day when I can be in similar relationships again. Over the last few months, God has called me into relationship with three other women who all live in different states. What began as relationships in the online community have now spilled over into real life, and we get together in person, meet in Google hangouts, text, and call one another as often as possible. 

Cheryl:  Describe the legacy you hope to leave for your children and grandchildren. What are some of the things you hope they remember about you most? 

Holly:  I just hope my kids and grands know that I love them beyond all reason. I always told my kids that I love them all the way around the world and back again. That become truth when they both deployed (at different times thankfully) and were very, very far away from home! I hope they remember that we had fun together, that I was encouraging and not judgmental as they lived their own lives, and that I thought they were the best people on the planet. 

Cheryl:  If you could sit down with anyone, living or dead, and ask them for advice, who would you most wish to talk to? Why? What questions would you ask? 

Holly:  I think I would call together all three of my prayer and accountability groups. I stay in contact with most of them at least through Facebook but that’s certainly different than our relationships used to be. I’d want to hear how they are experiencing God now, how they are ministering in their communities, and how they feel I have done since we were close. I’d like to talk about how we can serve God better in this stage of life now.

Cheryl:  How do you stay encouraged? Are there particular Scriptures, hymns, books, or other resources that you would like to recommend to the one who may be disheartened and ready to give up? 

Holly:  As I mentioned before, I have to keep my nose in the Book. I have to stay connected to God’s people. And I have to have outlets to serve within my gifting and calling. I love worship music but don’t listen to a lot outside of worship services. I also enjoy podcasts and there are a lot out there where you can be encouraged and learn from others. For anyone who is ready to give up, I’d say find community. Find a place where people will love and listen. 

Cheryl:  What would you describe as being the biggest challenge you have ever had to face, and how did you overcome it?

Holly:  My recovery journey was difficult, no surprise there. I was captive to a stronghold that I thought I would never leave behind. But God showed me in Romans 6 and 8 how Jesus had overcome death, and I finally realized that the same power that resurrected Jesus from the dead was available to me today. It was available to resurrect me from captivity and for me to draw on every day to fight temptation. Having a group of women around me who knew all the bad and ugly parts of it and loved me anyway was transformative. They weren’t afraid to love me and they weren’t afraid of the truth…either hearing it or speaking it. They were available when I was struggling. They prayed for me. They made plans with me about how I would avoid my particular temptations. They held my arms up as I battled through this season and are a large part of my victory. Most importantly, they always pointed me back to the truth and love of our Father.

Cheryl:  How can we pray for you at this current season of life? 

Holly:  You can pray that I will be content and patient in whatever circumstances God chooses for me right now. I love what I do and love my life, I just don’t love where I am living right now. I’m a city girl who doesn’t live in a city. That could change though, and I need to just wait on God’s will and timing! Thanks so much for praying for me. 

And, thank you, dear Holly, for being willing to take the time to share your heart with us!
You, my friend, are such a blessing!

Please add Holly and her request to your prayers, dear readers.
Sometimes, when God wants us to make a change, He allows us to feel a stirring of discontent.
I look forward to seeing what great things He has ahead for Holly!

God bless you for reading, for your support and encouragement,
and for every time you visit and comment here!

To read previous
click the links below.