Browse > Home / Archive by category 'Advice and Tips'

| Subscribe via RSS

Dear Moms: In 2018, Get In the Picture

January 8th, 2018 | No Comments | Posted in Advice and Tips
Please hear me when I say this: In ten years, you will not look at these family pictures and wish you were ten pounds lighter.

I’m in the middle of busy season here at the studio…and I mean BUSY. I’m talking living on coffee, no sleep, and haven’t fixed my hair in two weeks kind of busy. My house is a mess, the studio is a mess, and I’m actually loving every minute. I’m enjoying spending time with my amazing clients and friends doing exactly what I love.

I’m putting aside my editing and mile long to-do list to write this letter to you. It’s weighing heavy on my heart today and I really feel like it’s something you need to hear.

Every day I interact with sweet moms who have kids of all ages. You spend so much time putting effort into your photo shoot. Coordinating the perfect outfits, making sure your kids get great naps, begging your husband to cooperate. I see you, and I’m so thankful for that effort. As your photographer I want nothing more than for you to love and cherish your photos. I want them to last forever and I want you do adore them forever, and the most rewarding part of this job is hearing how much you love them.

But, lately it’s been difficult for me to hear how hard you’re being on yourself. Here are a few things I’ve been hearing over and over the last month in different shapes and forms:

“I have been wanting to book a shoot with you, but I’m trying to lose ten pounds first.”

“Please, photoshop me as much as you can!”

“I couldn’t find anything that looked okay on me so I decided not to be in them.”

“Please hide me behind the kids as much as you can.”

“I will love the pictures as long as I’m not in them!”

“I love my pictures, I just wish I was not in them.”

“I get so stressed out when it comes to pictures.”

I see the panic on your face when I ask if you want to be in a photo. I even had a sweet mom tell me today that she absolutely loved her pictures and was recommending me to everyone she knew, but she had a major breakdown about the pictures she was in because she hated how her body looked.

HERE’S WHAT I WANT TO SAY TO YOU:

Mommas…..please give yourself some grace.

As an artist, I study you in detail. I think you are beautiful. Absolutely, breathtakingly beautiful. But, I think we are talking about two different versions of beauty here. I’m not talking about your perfect outfit or your perfect body. What I see is the way you love your kids. The way you have so much patience and the way they look at you and giggle. That is so much more beautiful than perfect hair or make-up.

Sometimes they cling to you and don’t want to be put down. You get frustrated. I always assure you it’s okay. I love seeing how safe they feel in your arms and when they snuggle into you, I pretty much melt. (Even if it is totally messing up your hair.) Their drool on your shirt? Yes, of course I can photoshop that. But should I? You’ll miss that one day, you know. They adore you.

No matter hard you try, your photos will not be perfect. Life isn’t perfect. And that’s the beauty of photography – capturing the messiness of life as it comes and as it actually is. Because messy or not, you’ll never get those moments again.

And please hear me when I say this. In ten years, you will not look at these photos and wish you were ten pounds lighter. You will be looking at how little your baby is in your arms and wishing you could jump right back into that moment when they needed you so fiercely. You may even think how great you looked with less wrinkles and wish you could go back to that too.

In twenty years, when your sweet baby is grown they will look back and cherish these pictures. They won’t care about the outfit or what you weighed but they’ll be grateful they have something to remember how great of a mom you were to them.

Someday you’ll be gone and your great, great, great, grandchildren will see how much they resemble you and be so thankful for the legacy you left. This is the true beauty of a photo.

And let me just say, I’m speaking to the choir here. I’m not a mom yet, but I’ll be the first to admit I try to be perfect. In a world of social media and instant gratification with likes and comments, it’s hard not to be hypercritical of yourself.

So please, moms.

You literally made a human with that body of yours. Be easy on yourself. Give yourself grace. Take the pictures, even when you don’t feel your very best. Love the pictures, even when you don’t look your very best. You are more beautiful than you’ll ever know.

I promise you won’t regret it.

***

This article originally appeared at Alexrosephotography.com.

5 Ways to Rediscover Your Spouse Over and Over

January 8th, 2018 | No Comments | Posted in Advice and Tips
Here are five practices that have helped us rediscover each other as we navigate marriage from season to season.

Marriage is said to be a three-stranded cord, a covenant between us, our spouse and God. The funny thing is God is the only strand that’s sure to remain the same. When we said those wedding vows, we promised to love each other well, even as we constantly change and grow. That’s why maintaining an attitude and practice of discovery is essential for a thriving marriage. Today, I’d like to offer just a bit of what my husband and I have learned over these past 12 years of imperfect, but thriving marriage. Here are five practices that have helped us stay in discovery mode with each other as we navigate marriage from season to season.

Daily Debrief –Okay, debrief sounds kind of stuffy, but this is about as informal as it gets for us. We enjoy this practice every evening to wind down and it’s truly become refreshing to us both. This is where we discuss anything and everything that’s on our mind and hearts that day. We talk about what we did, something beautiful we saw, something funny the kids said or a song on the radio that made us cry. Anything is fair game. The goal is to simply cultivate a habit of sharing in life together.

It’s also a space where we touch base about anything from our schedule, budget or decisions that need to be made. Covering those seemingly minor details can go a long way to minimize miscommunication, preventing a snowball of stress and frustration. Truly, practice makes progress with this habit. It may take some diligence (and forgiveness), but is so worth the effort.

Open-Ended Questions – Open-ended questions are a wonderful way to intentionally foster a sense of discovery in our marriages. Open-ended questions tend to provoke more fulfilling exchange than “Did you have a good day?” or “Did you get that project done at work like you hoped?” For us, our conversation went to new places when we learned to say, “Tell me about your day.” Or “What are your hopes for our weekend?”

“Double-clicking” – I first heard this term in a business training many years ago. It stuck with me and is essentially asking a question based on answers. It’s active listening at it best. Consider this example.

Me: Hey honey, tell me about your day.

Him: It was good. I had those two meetings this morning and then I was extremely busy, but productive the rest of the day. I still need to prepare for my meeting with management on Tuesday.

Me: What would you like to see come about as a result of that meeting? Best case scenario? (This is double-clicking. Let’s take it a little farther.)

Him: Well, I’d like to …

Me: That makes a lot of sense. How can I best pray for you and empower you as you prepare for this important meeting?

At the heart of it, double-clicking can be a powerful way to say, “I’m interested in what you’re saying. You’re important to me. I want to learn more about you and all that pertains to you, because I am your #1 partner in life.”

Shared Language– This is something that my husband and I have slowly adopted conversation by conversation. When caring curiosity drives conversation, you’ll find yourself learning things that you never thought you’d know, all so that you can have a deeper understanding of your spouse and all that affects their daily life.

I have learned just enough about my husband’s business so that as he shares with me, I can more clearly grasp his professional goals, challenges and victories and encourage him in those things. He has done the same thing for me by learning about homeschooling or whatever I’m nerding out about at the time. Our conversations can go a lot farther and are a lot more satisfying because we’re willing to take interest in each other’s passions, hobbies and work.

Go first. You’ve expressed interest in your husband, initiated some open-ended conversation and you’ve given him opportunity to share. What’s on your heart that you could share with him about you? If you start inviting him into the dreams of your heart, you give him permission and encouragement to do the same. Going first means taking risk. It’s gently modeling the exchange you would like to grow in your marriage.

I’d love you to share in the comments below how practices like this work for you and your husband. As always, I’d be honored if you’d share this article with anyone you think it would encourage.

***

This article originally appeared at HannahSavage.com.

LifeWay Study Finds Bible Reading As a Child Leads to More Faithful Adults

November 2nd, 2017 | No Comments | Posted in Advice and Tips

By Bob Smietana

NASHVILLE, Tenn.—Most churchgoing Protestant parents of young adults say their kids grew up to be Christians.

But half of them don’t actually practice the Christian faith, their parents say.

And the biggest factor predicting their spiritual health as young adults is whether they read the Bible regularly as kids.

Those are among the findings of a new study among Protestant churchgoers about parenting and spirituality from Nashville-based LifeWay Research. The study was sponsored by LifeWay Kids for use in the book Nothing Less: Engaging Kids in a Lifetime of Faith.

For the study, researchers surveyed 2,000 Protestant and nondenominational churchgoers. All attend services at least once a month and have adult children ages 18 to 30.

Researchers wanted to know what parenting practices pay off over the long haul when it comes to spiritual health, said Scott McConnell, executive director of LifeWay Research.

“Churchgoing parents want to pass on their faith to their kids—and to see their children make that faith their own,” said McConnell. “But they don’t always know how best to make that happen.”

Spiritual disciplines

LifeWay Research took a twofold approach to the study.

First, researchers asked parents about 40 factors that could affect a child’s moral and spiritual development. Among them: whether the child’s parents had been divorced, whether the family prayed or ate meals together, what kind of school the child attended, how often the child went to church or youth group, and even what kind of music the child listened to growing up.

LifeWay Research then asked parents to describe their adult children’s spiritual health, using eight observable factors. Each child received one point if he or she:

  • Identifies as a Christian.
  • Shares his or her faith with unbelievers.
  • Is involved in church.
  • Reads the Bible regularly.
  • Serves in a church.
  • Teaches others at church.
  • Serves in the community.
  • Supports local or foreign missions.

Parents gave observations for a total of 3,472 adult children. Eighty-five percent identify as Christians, according to their parents, giving them at least 1 point on the 8-point spiritual health scale. But only 3 percent had a score of 8, the highest possible. Two-thirds had a score of 2 or less. Half had a score of 0 or 1, meaning they either don’t identify as Christians (11 percent) or they identify as Christians but have none of the other spiritual practices (39 percent).

LifeWay Research then compared the results of all these young adults to find out which factors predict the highest spiritual condition.

The top factor: Bible reading. Twenty-nine percent of the young adults regularly read the Bible while growing up, according to their parents. On average, that group has 12.5 percent higher spiritual health than otherwise comparable individuals who didn’t, LifeWay Research found.

In addition, spiritual health levels are 7.5 percent higher on average for young adults who regularly spent time praying while growing up (28 percent), regularly served in church (33 percent) or listened to primarily Christian music (22 percent) than for comparable individuals who didn’t.

And scores average 6.25 percent higher for young adults who participated in a church mission trip while growing up (27 percent) than for comparable individuals who didn’t.

Doing all five of these practices in childhood could boost a young adult’s spiritual health score 41 percent, putting the young adult above the 90th percentile, said McConnell.

“Practicing your faith—in specific ways—really pays off later in life,” he said.

Nothing Less, said it’s easy for parents to be caught up in the busyness of life—and not to ground their kids in the practice of reading the Bible.

“The key takeaway from the study is a simple yet profound finding that God’s Word truly is what changes lives,” she said.

Researchers identified a few factors that point to lower spiritual health for young adults. Those whose parents say they did not want to go to church as teens (22 percent) score 5 percent lower on spiritual health as young adults. Those whose parents say they were rebellious (16 percent) had scores 3.75 percent lower than others, and those who listened primarily to secular music (58 percent) had scores 2.5 percent lower.

Attending popular church activities such as youth groups and Vacation Bible School predicts spiritual health for young adults—but only when linked to core practices such as reading the Bible and serving, said McConnell. Other activities, such as family meals, did not show up as key predictors in this study.

Parents’ behavior is also related to their adult children’s spiritual health, LifeWay Research found. Young adults had higher spiritual health scores if they grew up with parents who spent time:

  • Reading the Bible several times a week.
  • Taking part in a service project or church mission trip as a family.
  • Sharing their faith with unbelievers.
  • Encouraging teenagers to serve in church.
  • Asking forgiveness when they messed up as parents.
  • Encouraging their children’s unique talents and interests.
  • Taking annual family vacations.
  • Attending churches with teaching that emphasized what the Bible says.
  • Teaching their children to tithe.

All these little things can pay off, said McConnell, by showing kids what practicing your faith looks like.

“In the end, parents hope the light will go on and their children will want to follow God on their own,” he said. “At any age the Holy Spirit can flip the light switch, and these habits can help kids grow in their faith.”

3 Ways to Honour Your Church Leaders During Pastor Appreciation Month

October 2nd, 2017 | No Comments | Posted in Advice and Tips
By Mark Dance (source: Lifeway.com)

Scripture is clear about the importance of showing “double-honor” to our pastors. What better time is there to do that than this month during Pastor Appreciation Month?

Your church has the opportunity to join thousands of churches across North America in recognizing your pastoral staff in a public and positive way.

From my personal experience as a pastor, I would like to suggest three ways churches can honor their pastors.

  1. Recognize Your Pastor Publicly

“Now we ask you, brothers, to give recognition to those who labor among you and lead you in the Lord and admonish you” (1 Thessalonians 5:12).

Respect is rarely more than a noble sentiment. A special appreciation event gives church members an opportunity to articulate their personal expressions of love, respect, and appreciation. At least one of those recognitions needs to be made by a visible lay-leader on a Sunday morning.

If October is not a good time on your church calendar to bless your pastor publicly, leverage a key anniversary or birthday instead.

  1. Encourage Your Pastor Personally

“Regard them very highly in love because of their work” (1 Thessalonians 5:13).

Pastoral staff members are more than mere professionals; they are someone’s spouse, parent, and child. Whether they are leading successfully or failing miserably, all pastors need encouragement, love, and respect of their church families. Ask them how you can pray for their family, then follow up with a note so they know you are seriously praying for them.

Treat your pastoral staff like friends or family members because they are both. Provide a listening ear and safe place for your pastors to share their dreams, as well as his nightmares. Will you join me in pouring into our pastors who have so generously poured into us?

  1. Bless Your Pastor Tangibly

“The one who is taught the message must share all his good things with the teacher” (Galatians 6:6).

“The elders who are good leaders should be considered worthy of an ample honorarium, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching” (1 Timothy 5:17).

Here are a few tangible ideas to show your pastoral staff you care.

  1. Express love and encouragement in writing or in person.
  2. Take your pastor hunting, fishing, golfing, etc. Or provide tickets to a sporting event, concert, or movie.
  3. Set out a gift basket in October for notes and gifts.
  4. Mow their lawn/wash their car.
  5. Provide a night out with a gift card for dinner and childcare.
  6. Ask them how you can pray for their family.
  7. Deliver their favourite dessert or meal.
  8. Take them to lunch.
  9. Help with a house renovation.
  10. Purchase and arrange a couples retreat.
  11. Bless them with a sabbatical (timeshare donations).

Whether churches do this in October or at another time during the year, LifeWay’s Pastoral Leadership team has provided resources to help you honor and bless your pastors. Free resources for Pastor Appreciation Month are available at LifeWayPastors.com. You’ll find downloadable materials including “33 Ways to Bless Your Pastor,” and an interview with Pastor A.B. Vines about implementing a culture of honor in your church. Other resources include a comprehensive list of discounted hotels, retreat centers, and Bed & Breakfasts.

I hope these ideas and resources help to prime the pastor appreciation pump in your church. Know that your pastor will be genuinely grateful for anything you do.

Take the Free Focus On Marriage Assessment

October 2nd, 2017 | No Comments | Posted in Advice and Tips


Dr. Greg and Erin Smalley have spent years studying why marriages thrive. They’ve found there are 12 behaviors that consistently make up great marriages. Evaluate the 12 essential traits of your marriage with the free survey, here: https://fotf.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_eOHw6QTSHszhv49

Before They Go to School … Have This Conversation

September 6th, 2017 | No Comments | Posted in Advice and Tips
“But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve … but as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” Joshua 24:15 (NIV)

Lysa TerKeurstI look around the dinner table and feel that desperate ache not uncommon to women who deeply love.

Whether it’s my own family or those who just feel like family, I want so much for them. These young people who are so full of possibility and dreams and bright futures … they have my heart.

Yet my heart feels fragile in the hands of these young people. They are smart. They are grounded. But they are young.

It takes me back to me at that age.

And that scares me.

I remember feeling so grown up and crazy excited at the chance to be in charge of my own life. Ready for independence. Ready for love. Ready for the next chapter of my life.

Chasing what felt good and thrilling, I quickly learned the wind blows in dangerous directions sometimes. Going with the flow led me places I didn’t intend to go. And I woke up one morning ashamed of my choices, wondering how in the world I got to this place.

How?

I cringe thinking back on it. And I cry. Because I don’t want that experience for these people I desperately love.

So, in the midst of the laughter and casual banter, I turn the conversation at the dinner table to a word I want them to know and live.

Pre-decide.

Decide today who you want to be. In this moment of togetherness, surrounded by family, and saturated in love — decide.

Decide what your answer will be when the talk turns ugly and the laughter turns mean against that girl who desperately needs you to be her friend.

Decide what your answer will be when someone invites you to the cool party full of drinks and drugs.

Decide what your answer will be when the boy says it’s no big deal to stay the night.

Decide what your answer will be when “friends” laugh at your Christian views and challenge you to lighten up.

Pre-decide.

Decide today who you are going to turn to if you do get into trouble. Remember the people at this table. Remember who truly has your best interests at heart. Remember who you are.

Pre-decide.

Decide today to turn around any mistakes from your past by asking for God’s forgiveness and walking in His grace.

Decide today to ignore the enemy who wants to trick you and trip you and take you out.

Pre-decide. And only say yes to the decisions that lead you in the direction of becoming more like Christ. This is the Best Yes.

Yes, pre-decide.

And then we go around the table and tell what we are pre-deciding this year. And my heart feels less of that ache.

I’m not so foolish to think this will act as a bad choice immunization. We are all susceptible. But it is a way to infuse their heart with a memory of a pre-decision.

And with that the plates are cleared, the cookies are nothing more than crumbs, and it’s time to go.

Here are some great Bible verses to pray for our kids as they head off to school this year:

• Galatians 1:10
“Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.” (NIV)

• Romans 12:2
“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is — his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (NIV)

• Joshua 24:15
“But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve … but as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” (NIV)

• Proverbs 29:25
“Fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is kept safe.” (NIV)

So, along with these Scripture verses, I whisper a few last words that are a “best yes” for them as they pack up to go …

Go where wisdom gathers, not where wisdom scatters.

Make decisions today that will still be good tomorrow.

And (insert voice cracking and tears welling up), remember how much I love you.

Dear Lord, You are so good. Thank you for entrusting these people to me. I pray You’ll guide my family in Your way as we enter a new school year. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

TRUTH FOR TODAY:
1 Corinthians 15:33, “Do not be misled: ‘Bad company corrupts good character.’” (NIV)

RELATED RESOURCES:
Be further equipped to have these kinds of discussions with your kids, your spouse, your coworkers, your fellow ministry leaders, etc. with Lysa’s new book, The Best Yes: Making Wise Decisions in the Midst of Endless DemandsClick here to purchase your copy.

Every decision points us in the direction we are about to travel. So we’ve got to get good at chasing down our decisions. We need to look ahead to see where they will take us — and make sure that’s really where we want to go. Click here to download Lysa’s free “Chase Down That Decision” Tool from her new book The Best Yes to help you or your kids practically think through a decision that needs to be made.

REFLECT AND RESPOND:
Which of the above Scripture verses will you pray for your child? Write it down on an index card and personalize it using your child’s name. Then, put the index card where you will see it often during the day as a reminder to pray.

Lysa TerKeurstClick here to pin the imageClick here to download this free printable PDF

4 Ways to Test Your Feelings

September 6th, 2017 | No Comments | Posted in Advice and Tips

By Dr. James Dobson

Question: By what means can I test my feelings and impressions? What are the steps necessary to prove the will of God? 

Answer: The best answer I’ve read for those questions was written in 1892 by Martin Wells Knapp. In his timeless little booklet entitled, Impressions, he described those impulses and leadings that come from above (from God) versus those that originate from below (from Satan). Just as the Holy Spirit may tell us by impressions what His will is concerning us, so also can our spiritual enemies tell us by impressions what their will is. And unfortunately, there is often a striking resemblance between the two kinds of messages. According to Knapp, one of the objectives of Satan is to get the Christian to lean totally on his impressions, accepting them uncritically as the absolute voice of God. When this occurs, “the devil has got all he wants.” 

When seeking God’s will Knapp recommends that each impression be evaluated very carefully to see if it reflects four distinguishing features: 

Scriptural. Is the impression in harmony with the Bible? Guidance from the Lord is always in accordance with the Holy Scripture, and this gives us an infallible point of reference and comparison. If this test had been applied by the young couple that was contemplating sexual permissiveness, mentioned earlier, they would have known that the “approval” they obtained was not from the Lord. Furthermore, the numerous religious movements which obviously add to Scripture or contradict its primary concepts would not have been born if the Bible had been accepted as the ultimate and complete Word of God. 

The most important aspect of this first test is that the entire Bible be used instead of the selection of “proof texts” or “chance texts.” A reader can find support for almost any viewpoint if he lifts individual verses or partial phrases out of context. We are commanded to study the Scriptures, not toy with them or manipulate them for our own purposes. 

Right. Knapp’s second test if impressions involves the matter of rightness. “Impressions which are from God are always right,” says Knapp. “They may be contrary to our feelings, our prejudices and our natural inclinations, but they are always right. They will stand all tests.”(1) 

I am acquainted with a family that was destroyed by an impression that could not have passed the test: Is it right? Although there were four little children in the home, the mother felt she was “called” to leave them and enter full-time evangelistic work. On very short notice she abandoned the children who needed her so badly and left them in the care of their father who worked six and seven days a week. 

The consequence was devastating. The youngest in the family lay awake at night, crying for his mommy. The older children had to assume adult responsibilities which they were ill-prepared to carry. There was no one at home to train and love and guide the development of the lonely little family. I simply cannot believe the mother’s impression was from God because it was neither scriptural nor “right” to leave the children. I suspect that she had other motives for fleeing her home, and Satan provided her with a seemingly noble explanation to cover her tracks. 

As Knapp said, “Millions of impressions, if compelled to answer the simple question, `Are you right?’ will blush and hesitate and squirm, and finally in confusion, retire. 

Providential. In explaining the importance of providential circumstances, Knapp quoted Hannah Whitall Smith, writing in THE CHRISTIAN’S SECRET OF A HAPPY LIFE: “If a leading is from the Holy Spirit, the way will always open for it.’ The Lord assures us of this when he says: `When he putteth forth his own sheep, he goeth before them, and the sheep follow him: for they know his voice’ (John 10:4). Notice here the expression `goeth before’ and `follow.’ He goes before to open the way, and we are to follow in the way thus opened. It is never a sign of divine leading when a Christian insists on opening his own way, and riding roughshod over all opposing things. If the Lord goes before us he will open all doors before us, and we shall not need ourselves to hammer them down.” 

Reasonable. The apostle Paul referred to the Christian life as a “reasonable service.” Accordingly, the will of God can be expected to be in harmony with spiritually enlightened judgment. We will not be asked to do absurd and ridiculous things which are devoid of judgment and common sense. Knapp said, “God has given us reasoning powers for a purpose, and he respects them, appeals to them, and all of his leadings are in unison with them.” 

Perhaps, the most common violation of this principle is seen in the pressure some people feel to force every chance conversation into a heaven-or-hell confrontation. Such individuals believe they must witness in every elevator, preach to any available group of four or more, and turn every routine encounter into an altar service. Of course, each Christian should “be prepared to give an answer” when the opportunity is provided, but the gospel should be shared in a natural and tactful manner. 

Another frequent disregard for the test of reason is seen with impulsive behavior. It was Knapp’s view, and I heartily agree, that God deals with us as rational beings and He rarely requires us to act on sudden suggestions or impressions. G.D. Watson stated it similarly, “The devil wants you to be in a hurry and rush and go pell mell and not wait for anything; whereas Jesus is always quiet and He is always calm and always takes His time.” Likewise, the psalmist David instructed us to “wait on the Lord.” 

From Emotions: Can You Trust Them? by Dr. James Dobson. 
Request this resource HERE.