Hope Hidden in Caring for Aging Parents: An Interview with Cynthia Ruchti

Cynthia Ruchti is well-known and loved for her stories about hope. I asked her to share extensively concerning the topic "Caring for Aging Parents," an important issue for so many today
in the "sandwich generation"—between caring for children or grandchildren, and caring for aging parents. Caregivers definitely need HOPE! 

Don't miss the note a random BOOK GIVEAWAY at the end of this post!

1. Cynthia, when did you first start thinking about the topic of aging parents?

I think almost everyone would answer this as I will: "Not soon enough." Many of us don’t think about planning for retirement until we notice that first gray hair, or until friends around us are talking about retirement. Other financial priorities seem to rise above saving for retirement—like groceries, mortgage, car insurance, new shoes for the kids. 

But many times, there’s a deeper emotional reason for our postponing topics related to aging parents. It’s uncomfortable to consider what aging will do to our parents, and to us. The pain of sending our kids off to college is tempered by the new adventures that await them. Retirement brings a way of life that requires adjustments, but also offers new freedoms and choices. But the season of caring for aging parents can only end in one way—with a final goodbye. 

Even when both adult children and aging parents are confident that heaven awaits, losing a parent is one of the deepest of losses. It’s in our nature to postpone thinking about that season as long as possible.

I started thinking about aging parents the day my father died of a sudden heart attack at 64, which I then considered too young and now consider WAY too young. I will never know what my father would have been like in his 70s or 80s. He was such a learned man, with an unshakable faith in God. I miss him every day. 

My introduction to the concept of aging parents was the harsh truth that I would not have my father present in my life when he (and I) aged. Those thoughts ramped up when my mother’s health—almost simultaneously—began to deteriorate. We journeyed together through seventeen years of various intensities of caregiving.

2. Does the Bible have anything to say about caregiving?

I’ve long been confident that there is no subject we will face that God doesn’t address directly or indirectly in the Bible. It shouldn’t have surprised me that the Lord had so much to say on this topic. Some of the references were pointed—Honor your father and mother”—with no endpoint or disclaimers to that directive. The New Testament speaks against those who failed to care for the elderly within their own family. 

But others didn’t appear related until I stared at them for a while, like a puzzle that only comes to light after you’ve looked beyond the obvious. 
  • If God is slow to anger, for instance, shouldn’t that be a model for our caregiving? 
  • If we’re taught to treat each other with respect, why would that not apply to caregiving for aging parents? 
  • If the fruit of the Spirit (as expressed in Galatians 5:22) lists evidence that shows up relationally—patience, goodness, faithfulness, kindness—we don’t have to wonder about the attitude we’re to have in caring for our parents as they age.

3. How can we care for aging parents when there are still demands on our time at home?

The wise caregiver knows it is for a season. That season may be weeks, months, or years. But it is temporary. 

What may need to take a backseat for a while in order to care well for our parents in their time of need? The answer may be obvious—a hobby or an “extra” volunteer responsibility. Or it may be less obvious and more sacrificial.

The only way I know to walk that line—balancing personal health, family health, work needs, and caregiving—is to stay attuned to the whispers of the Only Wise God. If we try to manipulate our schedule to do it all, or use human intuition alone to decide whose needs come first right now, we are prone to failure and frustration. If, however, we invite God to speak to us, show us, make it clear how we can best glorify Him and follow His leading at any given moment, we will find ourselves surprised and blessed by the ways He works it out.

4. In the midst of caring for aging parents’ physical needs, there are also emotional, mental and social needs. How can an adult child access what is the most urgent need at any given time? Does a caregiver have to “be all” in a parent’s life?

Having our relationship with Jesus in good repair energizes us for the hard things. Letting our relationship with Him take a backseat drains every part of us. Not sleeping well, not eating right, not breathing fresh air exhausts us. Caregivers can’t afford to be drained spiritually, mentally, emotionally, or physically.
A caregiver is constantly doing triage. 
Who’s “bleeding out” at the moment—my aging parent or my teenage son? An emergency surgery may take precedence over a momentary meltdown…or the meltdown may require us to shelve our pride and take help wherever we can find it. 

Your husband/sibling/child doesn’t do well with emergencies? He or she may have to today. And isn’t that how we grew in our abilities to cope? We dove in and did what we could?

When pride is shelved, we’re free to admit to ourselves and to others that we are not our parents’ or our children's’ or even our spouse’s be-all and end-all. Only One can adequately fill that role. 

Our parents may prefer us to tuck them in at night, for instance. But they may discover by necessity that having a granddaughter tuck them in, or even a trusted church friend, can offer a tender moment they would have missed if they had their way, or if we assumed we were the only option.

5. How does a caregiver maintain her own sanity and well-being in the midst of caring? What spiritual truths or scriptures can help?

God has a special warehouse of supplies for caregivers. He allows caregivers access to a secret stash that others don’t need or might not appreciate as much. Uncommon fortitude. Heavy-duty versions of patience. 

In the book As My Parents Age, one of the reflections (pp. 80-81) looks at the principles in 1
Corinthians 13 as it applies the concept of godly love to godly caregiving. 

That section reminds us what pure-hearted caregiving looks like:

Love for my aging parent is patient.
Love for my aging parent is kind.
Love for my aging parents isn’t jealous. It doesn’t resent the attention the parent requires.
Love for my aging parent doesn’t brag. It isn’t condescending.
Love for my aging parent isn’t arrogant.
Caregiving love isn’t rude. It doesn’t seek its own advantage.
Love for my aging parents isn’t irritable. It doesn’t keep a record of complaints. Clean slate every morning.

When we look at that list, we can feel even more inadequate. But it’s important to note that His kind of love is what God promises to supply to those who ask Him for access to His storehouses. It’s much the same as the list of fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22. It isn’t human-manufactured artificial love, joy, peace, patience…. It’s a harvest that comes from our allowing the Holy Spirit to work through us.

That counsel might seem like it ignored the question about sanity and well-being. But instead it speaks directly to those needs. We can only do so much. God has no such limits.

6. Sometimes caregiving is just plain difficult and a caregiver feels like exploding—in tears or laughter. Is there any wrong way to be a caregiver? And how does a caregiver deal with feelings of guilt?

It could be argued that the only WRONG ways of caregiving are unlovingly, uncaringly, selfishly, or resentfully. Those attitudes are hard to hide.

Guilt can cripple a caregiver. Few caregivers I’ve spoken with believe they did enough, spent enough time and energy, gave enough. Setting those feelings aside is part of good caregiving. 

If we’re caregiving as if it’s a race or competition for adequacy, as if anyone—including God—is grading us on the curve, or as if imagining that one more hour or one more hug would have changed less-than into more-than-enough, we’re missing the point. And we’re handicapping our abilities. 

Rather than focusing on the goal—loving the one in need in Jesus’ name and by His strength—we focus on our stride, our posture, how much we’re sweating. What runner can cross the finish line victoriously if consumed with their perspiration?

In addition to providing what we need to caregive well, God offers us a way to defuse guilt-bombs. Psalm 51:2—“Wash me completely clean of my guilt.”

7. What if parents live far away? How can we be caregivers then?

Long-distance caregiving brings added challenges. It’s both heartbreaking and in some ways a “guilty” relief to not be near enough to be involved in day-to-day caregiving. 

Technology can help bridge the distance. That may mean connecting with aging parents via video calls in addition to phone calls, or enlisting the aid of a private social media group to keep family members informed and updated, or connecting online with an aging parent’s neighbor or church friend. 

One universal longing in the heart of aging parents is to know they’re not forgotten, not cast aside.

8. Caregiving can cost adult children financially, but there are other kinds of sacrifices caregivers make to meet needs. Can you address some of those “costs”?

Caring for aging parents exacts a toll in energy, certainly, and time, which often translates into an agenda cost. Our agendas bow to the on-call needs of the aging parent.

Relationally, caregiving can mean some of our traditional friendship activities are put on hold during that season.

Despite the natural depletions in our physical and emotional bank accounts, wise caregivers know to keep making deposits in order to caregive for the long haul. But any sacrifice motivated by love is eventually rewarded. Our reserves are replenished by the God who says, “Well done.”

9. There eventually comes a time when we have to say goodbye to our parents. How do we do that gracefully, even victoriously? How do we deal with the grief?

Hospice workers tell us that those who have the hardest time coping with a parent’s death refused to admit it could happen. Or those who assume if they pray more diligently, investigate one more treatment, encourage better, they can prevent what is inevitable for all of us.

Three keys to navigating that inevitable goodbye with grace are:

  1. Watch for the memory-making moments, even near the end.
  2. Trust our loved one into God's hands.
  3. Allow our grief to find its unique way of expression.
Some of us need the tears—lots of them. Some need to talk it out. Some need quiet to process alone. Some write about their grief, paint their way through, stand on the edge of a lake and let their sobs ring across the water. If we try to pattern our grief on someone else’s experience, we find ourselves frustrated and mired. 

Understanding—and being prepared for—waves of grief that hit us unexpectedly and often at the oddest times will equip us to embrace the fullness of that season, its tough and tender, traumatic and hope-hemmed aspects.

10. Is there anything else you think adult children—especially Christians—need to know or remember in regard to caregiving?

Familiar Bible verses remind us to do to others as we would have them do to us (Matthew 7:12, Luke 6:31). When caring for my mother in her final days that stretched to years, if I wearied, that biblical principle buoyed me. If I fell into feeling sorry for myself or resenting the intrusion of caregiving on my carefully-laid plans, God reminded me that the day will likely come when my daughter or sons will be tasked with caring for me. 

How would I want to be treated? With respect. With tenderness. With kind consideration. I’d want them to listen even if I didn’t make sense and demonstrate that I wasn’t forgotten. 

As I ran errands for my mom or rubbed lotion on her feet or held her in my arms, I pictured years down the road when the one being held would be me. It softened both my voice and my touch.

What is your greatest care-taking struggle with aging parents? How has the Lord helped you in this worthy-but-difficult responsibility?

NOTE: Share your comments here 
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As My Parents Age ... a random drawing ending Nov. 8, 2017.

Cynthia Ruchti tells stories hemmed in Hope through award-winning novels, nonfiction, and devotionals, and through speaking events for women and writers. She's the author of 21 books that tackle tough topics tenderly. You can connect with Cynthia on her website or Facebook Reader Page to find out more about her current and upcoming releases.


Lead Me to 'The Rock'

Day after day, my heart grieves as I watch the news in America.

Perversion, division, and now this.

I'm weeping over what happened in Las Vegas. 

And as I weep, I pray.

That's about all I can do these days when I see how twisted we have come.

We have forgotten God as a nation, and even believers are playing around with the truth.
When all around us crumbles, we so desperately need the Rock.
The psalmist said, 
   "...I call as my heart grows faint; lead me to the rock that is higher than I" (Psalm 61:2).

And the psalmist defines that rock.

  • "The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer...." (Psalm 18:2). 
  • "...my God the rock of my refuge" (Psalm 94:22). 
  • "...He will ... set me high upon a rock" (Psalm 27:5).
  • "...he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand" (Psalm 40:2).
  • "...Praise be to my Rock!" (Psalm 18:46).1 Pet 2:4
  • "He alone is my rock ... I shall not be greatly shaken" (Psalm 62:2)
"Rock" is a powerful metaphor. In the Old Testament, Israel greatly identified with the "rock" in times of need. God was Israel's rock in many ways. Here are four:
  1. Provision - God caused water to flow from a rock (Deuteronomy 8:15). 
  2. Protection - God hid Moses in the "cleft" of a rock (Exodus 33:22) and Moses said God, the Rock, provided justice for His people (Deuteronomy 32:4b). 
  3. Perfection - Hannah spoke of God's perfect holiness and said, "neither is there any rock like our God" (1 Samuel 2:2). Moses implied other rocks (other gods) were insufficient refuge (Deuteronomy 32:31, 37); and said the works of Israel's Rock are "perfect" (Deuteronomy 32:4a).
  4. Peace. God is the "Rock eternal," and when we trust in Him, no matter our circumstances we will remain in "perfect peace" (Isaiah 26:3-4).
Sadly, Israel often rejected "the Rock their Savior" (Deuteronomy 32:15, 18).

A rock is associated with solidity, strength and building. The church is built upon the strong foundation of Christ, our Rock of salvation. Paul identifies the Rock as Jesus (1 Corinthians 10:4b). He is the Living Stone, rejected by men, but precious in the Father's sight (1 Peter 2:4).

The "rock" on which Christ builds his church has long been debated, based on Matthew 16:18. It's true that Peter (petros, small stone) was the first to proclaim the Gospel to the Gentiles; and in a sense, his proclamation led to the humble beginnings of the early church.

But Jesus said, "on this rock (petra, foundational boulder) I will build my church." Peter confessed his understanding that Jesus was the Son of God, the Rock, and faith would be the way all others would come to be part of the Body of Christ. The wise man truly does build his house "on the rock," the "chief cornerstone" (1 Peter 2:6-7).

Peter expressed this in 1 Peter 2:4 when he said believers would be "living stones" in a spiritual house.

My childhood church sang "Rock of Ages," and I remember the comforting words, "Let me hide myself in Thee." The third stanza reminds me I can add nothing to the rock of my salvation:

     "Nothing in my hand I bring, Simply to Thy cross I cling...."

So as I pray for America today, I am also praying the Lord will show me how to point people to Him, our strength, our comfort, our salvation ... our solid Rock.


Mentoring for All Seasons: An Interview with Janet Thompson

Janet Thompson is a woman of God with a desire to bring women to God. I asked her to share some thoughts about mentoring—a ministry dear to her heart.

Why is mentoring important in the life of today's church?

God told us to mentor throughout the Bible, in the Old and New Testament, when He said one generation is to teach and train the Christian life to the next generation. 

Psalm 145:4 is just one of many verses: One generation commends your works to another; they tell of your mighty acts.” Not to pass down how to do church, but the purpose of church: worshiping God. To share with the next generation the wonders of God and how to live the Christian life in an ever-changing world.

Do you find mentoring is more difficult with the generation gaps so prevalent in congregations?

Generation gaps in the church was never God’s plan, but in many churches today, the gap between generations is so wide the only thing passed between the two is mistrust and misunderstanding—all in the name of Jesus. Mentoring brings the generations together. The younger generation is the future of the church and many are longing for a mentor.

Why is mentoring not an "old" concept—rather than "coaching"—or are they really the same thing, just different terminology?

No, I don’t think they are the same thing, and as we see in the Bible, mentoring is a timeless concept. Mentoring is a two-way relationship where both grow in their faith. It can be as simple as the mentor sharing how God helped her through her experiences, and He will be there for the mentee too and so will the mentor. Together they pray and search the Scriptures for answers to the mentees life issues. 

Mentors aren’t experts in the Bible, they’re simply women who love the Lord and want to help a spiritually younger woman, or someone going through a life season she has experienced.

Janet, how do you define modern-day “coaching”? And how does it differ from mentoring?

Coaching is usually goal oriented with the “coach” as an expert trained to have a specific agenda.

Mentoring is more informal with the mentor and mentee deciding what they want to do together and the mentor is simply leading the mentee to the Book with all the answers—the Bible, and the “Life Coach” for both of them, Jesus Christ.

And it’s for ALL generations: Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. Glory to him in the church and in Christ Jesus through all generations forever and ever! Amen.” (Ephesians 3:20-21 NLT).

Is mentoring an outgrowth of Titus 2? If so, why aren't more women following the biblical mandate today?

Yes, mentoring is an application of Titus2:3-5, among numerous other verses. Mentoring is such an important aspect of the Christian life: it’s the job description for every Christian. Focusing on the Titus 2 verses, I explain them as spiritually older women investing in the spiritually younger women, not necessarily chronological age.

When I teach on these verses and ask the question of why more women don’t mentor today, I receive answers like: lack of time, fear, and not feeling qualified. When they say it aloud, they realize none of those reasons is from God, who tells us in Scripture to just do it!

Mentors don’t have all the answers, but God does. That’s why my new book, Mentoring for All Seasons: Sharing Life Experiences and God's Faithfulness, is a hot-to practical book for both mentors
and mentees, with tips and helps in how to find and be a mentor or mentee. There are also Scriptures provided for discussion of God's perspective on issues in all seasons of a woman's life, from tweens to twilight years.

Why do you talk about mentoring in relation to seasons of life? Why do we need to distinguish the seasons? Why isn't mentoring the same for everyone?

The foundational principles of mentoring are the same. But a woman in a seeker or new believer season is going to need more discipling than a woman who is a mature Christian but is in a life season she’s never experienced—like being newly married, a new mom, or maybe experiencing a tragedy or health issue.

Other times, women have made life choices that have caused pain to themselves or others, and their mentoring relationship will have a different focus than a parenting or caregiving season. A tween or teen season mentoring relationship will look different than midlife or twilight years.

Over the twenty years I’ve led the Woman to Woman Mentoring Ministry, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting women in all seasons of life. I noticed so many haven't realized how beneficial a mentor would be in a changing or difficult life season, or how they could bless other women with mentoring them through a life season they’ve experienced.

How can shared life experiences help us point our mentees to God's lovingkindness and faithfulness? 

We’re always leaving a life season where we could mentor someone just coming into that life season, as we go into a new season where we need a mentor.

My tagline for Woman to Woman Mentoring is “Sharing Life Experiences and God’s Faithfulness,” which is also the subtitle for Mentoring for All Seasons

Mentoring is that simple, and sometimes we make it too hard. We can be a caring, praying friend to someone God puts into our path who is going through a season we’ve experienced. We can share with her how God helped us through, and He will be there for her too. We can pray and walk beside her. 

That’s mentoring.

Amazing things happen when two women walk side by side with Christ in the center.

But what if a woman is in a season we haven’t yet experienced?

We can mentor women in a season we haven't experienced, because the basis for any mentoring relationship is always helping your mentee grow in her faith and depend on God and His Word, not on you. Mentoring for All Seasons is a reference to help a mentor understand and guide a mentee in an experience she hasn’t had.

What is the desired result of mentoring?

I always tell mentors, “Mentoring is not about you.” They may never see the results of a change in their mentee; they may simply plant a seed others will water along the way.

When a mentor tells me she feels like a failure as she tries to meet a goal or make a change in her mentee, it becomes more about the mentor’s accomplishments and her mentoring skills than about letting God do His work through her.

I have a great example of a nightmare mentee whose mentor probably never knew she—the mentee—went on to become a public speaker on the topic of mentoring and the pastor’s wife. Of course, it’s always wonderful when the mentee becomes a mentor and shares with the next generation what she's been taught, because that’s how the church and the family of God continues through the generations.

Do you have any last words to share with us?

Yes, I would like to share with you the closing paragraph of a letter Tracy Steel shared in the Preface of Mentoring for All Seasons. Tracy wrote the letter to spiritually older women, which she referred to as “righteous oaks.”

“Older woman, I’m writing this letter to you because young women need an oak. My prayer is you’ll heed Psalm 78:1-8 and Titus 2:3-5Don’t allow fear, busyness or inferiority to stop you from letting me—a younger woman—learn from you. Nourish us simply with your presence and prayers.

"You aren’t here to warm a pew, precious oak, but to warm our hearts towards Jesus. The future of the church needs you. You are an oak. “They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor” (Isaiah 61:3b).

All my love, Tracy

Thank you for sharing that wonderful letter and your words of wisdom, Janet. The church truly needs mentors, and the Lord is using your excellent years of experience to arm us for the mentoring mission.

Are you a mentor yet? If not, can you make an intentional choice to ask the Lord to prepare you? 

And if you are a mentor, how do you feel about Janet’s words that mentoring is for “all generations”? Are you a mentee as well as a mentor?

Janet Thompson is an international speaker and award-winning author of 19 books. Her latest release is Mentoring for All Seasons: Sharing Life Experiences and God’s FaithfulnessShe is also the author of Forsaken God?: Remembering the Goodness of God Our Culture Has ForgottenFace-to-Face Bible study Series; and Woman to Woman Mentoring ResourcesJanet is the founder of Woman to Woman Mentoring and About His Work Ministries. Visit Janet and sign up for her Monday Morning blog and online newsletter at womantowomanmentoring.com.


Dial Down the Distracting Noise

As I'm getting older, I'm noticing some hearing loss. It's not uncommon for me to say "What?" And when there is a lot of distracting "background noise," I can't seem to focus in on what someone is saying.

That's normal for a lot of old folks as well as for younger people who experienced a lot of loud noise think, rock concerts
when they were younger.

Noise in our world continues to escalate. Consider car horns, construction drilling, ambulances or police sirens, and other modern "noises." I read that New York City is now addressing "noise pollution" in its sprawling metropolis.

I wondered what "distracting noise" might be like in a spiritual sense. And does it have to be loud to qualify?

From personal experience, the most distracting "noise" I encounter is Satan's lies.  His lies are not always loud; most of the time they are subtle. But they qualify as "distracting noise" because they threaten to crowd out the guiding voices of truth in my life—the Holy Spirit and the Word of God. Satan's strategies are always geared to detracting us from our identity in Christ.

Another "noisy" influence in my life is the culture and its crazy, anti-God philosophies. Whether I'm watching television or a movie, or engaging in conversations with those who don't know the Lord, the danger is I will not recognize the noisy and confusing philosophies that counter the voice of the Lord.

And then, there's a "noise" deep inside me, the cravings of my "flesh." The desires of my sinful flesh stand against the desires of the Holy Spirit. Endless self-improvement efforts and addiction to performance got me nowhere.

I've discovered I need another kind of noise to help me dial down distracting noise. 

I call it "spiritual white noise."

You've likely heart about white noise. Simply put, it's a special kind of sound used to mask background sounds—to drown out what might otherwise prevent us from sleeping, for instance. For an explanation of white noise (and a rainbow of other noise colors) from Popular Science, read here.

Scientists call white noise "BETTER noise."

What is my better noise spiritually? I believe it is the truth of God as found in the Word of God and worked into our hearts through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Scripture is the "better noise" I need every moment of every day.
Whenever I must deal with the noise of Satan's lies, I can use scripture to combat those lies, just as Jesus did in Matthew 4:1-11.

When the culture creeps into my heart and shouts for attention, I can root it out, again, with the truth of the Word of God.

And when my sinful flesh rears up to draw me away from following and obeying the Spirit, I can counter my flesh with the truth that sets me free. 

Knowing and speaking scripture—counseling my heart with God's truthis a spiritual habit. It's turning on the "spiritual white noise" that can change my life. And some of the best of this better noise addresses who I am and what I have in Christ.

The Lord's "it is written" responses to Satan were like saying, "Be quiet, Satan!" And I too find spiritual success when I use the Word of God to counter Satan's lies, the culture's vain philosophies, and my wayward flesh.

Some examples:

When I face the noise of fear, my better noise is 2 Timothy 1:7. The truth is: God doesn't want me to fear, but to rely on His gifts of power, love and self-control.

When I struggle with the noise of my addiction to overeating, my spiritual white noise is Romans 12:21. The truth is: I don't have to be overcome by my flesh; I can overcome with good—by choosing to respond in wisdom and power in my new nature in Christ.

When I feel overwhelmed by the stresses of life screaming at me, my better noise is Matthew 11:28-30. The Truth is: In my weariness, I can run to Jesus for rest. His burden is light and He refreshes me.

Using scripture to dial down the distracting noise of Satan, the world and our sinful flesh is a key in effective spiritual warfare. We need to get better at using this powerful approach to attacks. 

We need to learn, memorize and meditate on the "spiritual white noise" that can help us in our times of greatest temptation.

Let God's Word be the loudest voice you hear!

What are some of your favorite "noise"-silencing scriptures?


5 Ways to 'Fall Forward'

As a young woman, I faced the fall season with anxiety and excitement. Anxiety because the upcoming school year and holiday schedule seemed daunting. Excitement because—well,
Thanksgiving and Christmas!

Over the years, I created a formula to help me Fall Forward with strength and wisdom. I wanted to face each September with a positive outlook and plan, so I set aside one morning to prepare my heart, home, health, hospitality and hands for a more productive fall.

Here’s how you can prepare to Fall Forward too.

1. HEART: Fall Forward with Faith

Perhaps some readers saw the title of this article and thought about moving forward after a painful fall into sin. That’s actually part of this!

There’s nothing like moving forward
 after defeat with a clean slate.

I asked the Lord to show me where I’d fallen away from following Him, to reveal unrecognized ways I’d failed Him in love, obedience and service. Then I moved forward biblically with repentance, confession and renewed faith (1 John 1:9; 2 Corinthians 5:7).

Also, because the Lord is our first priority, our faith must center in Him. Abiding in Christ, we will not work under our own steam; and walking in the Spirit, we will not act on sinful desires (John 15:4-5; Ephesians 5:16).

Ask God to powerfully accomplish His will in and through you this season, so you can live to the praise of His glory (Hebrews 13:21; Ephesians 5:15-17).

2. HOME: Fall Forward with Family

After the Lord, family is our second priority—our husband and children. And even if we are single, this could perhaps include extended family members who need our love and encouragement: a lonely aunt, a weary young mom, a rebellious-but-searching cousin, a fragile grandmother.

In my evaluation time, I considered my closest relationships, especially the people I love at my base of operations, my home. I wanted to root out any interactions that did not please the Lord, and start into the busy fall with a fresh sense of unity and teamwork (Ephesians 4:2-3). I wanted to encourage and “spur” my family on toward spiritual growth (Hebrews 10:24).

That meant I needed to ask forgiveness for offenses. I asked some family members and relatives to point out “blind spots” in my behavior—attitudes that needed improvement and positive actions to cultivate. I even took the 30-Day Husband Encouragement Challenge to rev up my marriage!

We can also extend our definition of “family.”

One year I decided to “adopt” some family for the holidays. I asked the Lord to point me toward people I could pray for and help in positive ways without embarrassing them. He showed me two singles in our church. I poured into their lives, and as the holiday season progressed, we gathered these new family members together for dinners and special events.

3. HEALTH: Fall Forward with Freedom 

There are many kinds of “health,” and we want freedom in each area.

For spiritual health, remember your freedom in Christ and embrace grace. Don’t beat yourself up, but rather cooperate with the Holy Spirit to conquer hindering and destructive sinful habits (Romans 8:1; Galatians 5:1).

For physical health, double-down on health efforts. There are so many temptations during the holiday season; and fall is already hectic, so keep it simple! 

Steward your body, the Temple of the Holy Spirit, wisely (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). Create new paths to freedom with healthier food options, or take time to prayer walk, or simply stretch and work on greater flexibility.

For mental health, examine your thoughts. Ask God to show you lies you are believing, or thoughts you’re harboring that might lead to sin (2 Corinthians 10:5; Mark 7:20-22; Philippians 4:8). There is great freedom in the Lord, and the truth of scripture (John 8:36; 2 Corinthians 3:17; Psalm 119:45; Colossians 1:21-23).

For emotional and social health, check your relationships. Clear the air of tension by cleaning away any relational rubbish so you can have more relational freedom. Think of ways to practice more love and service as evidences of your freedom in Christ (Galatians 5:13-14).

For financial health, look at your checkbook and your bills. Spread it all before the Lord and ask Him how He wants you to use your money and live in true financial freedom (Matthew 6:24; 1 Timothy 6:17-19).

4. HOSPITALITY: Fall Forward with Friendship

One of my favorite fall strategies is opening my home to make new friends—to watch for new people at church and help them feel welcome and wanted. Read about “The Heart of Hospitality” here.

Open your home to encourage believers at a Bible study, coffee chat, women’s tea, or even a fellowship “dinner club,” inviting a couple or single you know for fellowship. Set aside time for positive, challenging interactions. Be alert to encourage those who are struggling (Proverbs 17:17).

And don’t neglect friendships with those who don’t yet know Christ. Reject the “Christian bubble.” Reach out humbly and relate to unbelievers (1 Corinthians 9:22). Share your life as well as your testimony.

5. HANDS: Fall Forward with Fruitfulness   

The writer of Ecclesiastes wrote, “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might” (9:10). Heading into fall, be proactive to use your time wisely and think of new ways to serve the Lord (Ephesians 5:16; Romans 12:11).

God gave each of us spiritual gifts and we have all developed unique skills over the years too, so we’ll want to be creative to encourage and help others (Romans 12:6-8; 1 Corinthians 12:4-7). We can bear lasting, righteous fruit for God’s glory (John 15:16; Galatians 5:16, 22; 6:9).

Also, as the holidays approach, consider using purposeful creativity to make meaningful gifts that might meet people’s needs or draw them to the Savior.

Which of these “fall forward” ideas can you put into practice today?
Father God, help us launch into the fall season with a fresh plan to honor you and bless others for Jesus’ sake. Amen.