What do you look for in a friend?

I recently watched the movie Mom’s Night Out for the second time. I love this movie and highly recommend it. One of my favorite things is the friendship between Allyson and Izzy. They’ve been best friends since grade school, and while they have totally different 0personalities, they can rely on each other no matter what. Even when Allyson has a major meltdown, Izzy is still her best friend, cheering her on…and being there for Allyson through thick and thin.

I love the enduring friendship between these two characters.

So what do you look for in a friend? I recently conducted an online survey and discovered a myriad of answers: loyalty; honesty; fun to be around; a prayer intercessor; trustworthy; keeper of secrets; and the list continues.

What if we all had a best friend like Izzy in Mom’s Night Out? While she certainly could have judged Allyson on everything from parenting to clothing styles, she didn’t. And Allyson was a good friend to Izzy as well. They were comrades. But are such friendships only in movies and books? 678538_ice_cream_cone_kids_1

In Anne of Green Gables, Anne wishes for a kindred spirit. Her wish soon comes true when she meets Diana Berry. And not only does Diana become Anne’s “kindred spirit,” but Anne also finds a kindred spirit in a couple of other characters – most of whom are the most unlikely of best friends.

Proof that best friends don’t always come in the packages we would expect.

Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 says: Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! and Proverbs 17:17 A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity are just two of the verses pertaining to friendship.

3-friends-5-1094303-mOf course, we all have ideas of what we look for in a friend. What about the things we wouldn’t desire in a friend? What about the friendships gone awry? What about a wrong word accidentally spoken and the broken friendship and heartache that follows?

Even the best of friends (even friends like Izzy and Diana Berry) can and might disappoint us. Even the strongest friendships can fail.

But there is one friend who never, ever will let us down. He will never reject us, judge us, betray us, scorn us, or talk behind our backs.

His name is Jesus.

Not only is He always there (He’s a great listener!) at any time – day or night – but he also did something for which only the best of friends could do. He died for our sins. Yes, the whole entire humungous backpack full of them – sins from our past, present, and future.

No amount of qualities I could list as those I look for in a friend could compare to the friendship Jesus provides. He is never too busy to hear our concerns. He never tires of our same struggles. He always cares, always loves, and is always there. As a matter of fact, when we truly belong to Him, nothing can ever take us from His hand. (John 10:28-30).

Now that’s true friendship!

5 fun (and inexpensive) suggestions for date night

Penny Zeller, Christian Author

Experts will tell you that arranging a regular date night with your spouse is one of the most important things for a healthy marriage. When our children joined their weekly youth group, Lon and I took advantage of arranging date nights during that hour-and-a-half long time slot. There were a million other “must-dos,” but making our marriage a priority is the most important and something that has an impact, not only on us, but also on our children.

The ultimate date night would be a fancy dinner out each week, and we have headed to our favorite restaurant a time or two, but that quickly became expensive.

Heading to a fancy restaurant quickly becomes too expensive.

Heading to a fancy restaurant quickly becomes too expensive.

So we decided to engage in these five fun and inexpensive date night suggestions…

  • Have a chat. While we can’t afford to go to our favorite restaurant each week, we can afford to head to a local Mexican restaurant known for its delicious salsa. On a few of our date nights, we opt for a huge bag of homemade tortilla chips and two cups of salsa at a meager price and head to the park. Or a pit-stop to the ice cream stand for two Italian sodas. Sitting on a park bench watching the river rush through the lush landscape, we enjoy conversation with each other about the happenings of the last week. Sometimes in marriage, we forget to just talk. Talk about our day, our week, our hopes for the future, what we love about each other.
  • Go for a bike ride. Lon and I both love to ride bikes and we are blessed with a multitude of bike paths in our town. We load up our bikes into the back of the truck, drop the kids off at youth group, and take to the bike paths and other bike-friendly areas of town.
A bike ride is a perfect plan for date night.

A bike ride is a perfect plan for date night.

  • Play a game. Whether summer or winter, a board or card game is always a fun way to spend a few hours with the one you love. One of our favorite card games is Blink. It’s a fast, high-intensity game that tests your reflexes.

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  • Go window shopping. We are huge fans of anything outdoorsy so we sometimes venture to the local sporting goods store to window shop for hunting items (for him) and cute camo clothing (for me). I play close attention to the items Lon peruses for ideas for Christmas and birthday gifts.
  • Just spend time together. Time moves so quickly. Sometimes the best way to spend a date night is to snuggle on the couch, watch a movie you’ve been longing to see (I highly recommend  the new movies The Redemption of Henry Myers, Finding Normal or Seasons of Gray), or reading Bibles together while munching on a bowl of popcorn.

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No matter what you and your spouse choose to do, make sure you make an appointment with each other for a date night at least once a month. Make it a goal to enjoy each other’s company and reconnect. Nothing will enhance your marriage more.

Spending time together greatly enhances a marriage.

Spending time together greatly enhances a marriage.

 

 

 

Interview with Author Stephanie Shott and Book Giveaway!

Penny Zeller, Christian Author

I am thrilled to have author Stephanie Shott as my guest today.  Stephanie is the founder of The M.O.M. Initiative, a ministry devoted to making mentoring intentionally missional. She is an author and a popular speaker who helps women live full, fearless and faithful lives. To invite Stephanie to speak at your next event, visit her website at www.stephanieshott.com. To find out more about The M.O.M. Initiative or to begin a M.O.M. Mentor Group, visit www.themominitiative.com. She stopped by to tell us about her new book The Making of a Mom: Practical Help for Purposeful Parenting, a must-read for all moms!

Stephanie is offering a free sample download of the chapter Not Alone. And not only that, but Stephanie is offering to give away a copy to one lucky winner! Scroll down to the very bottom for more details. For now, let’s meet Stephanie…

web-1Hello Stephanie! Thank you for being my guest. How did your passion for mentoring moms begin and what prompted you to start The MOM Initiative?

Thanks for having me, Penny. The ministry (The M.O.M. Initiative) was conceived in a parking lot of a gas station when I glanced over and noticed a young girl waddling by. She was young in years, but great with child. And I couldn’t help but wonder if she had someone who was going to take her mom journey with her or if she was going to have to go it alone. I reflected on my own mom journey and remember how hard it was as a teen mom, as a single mom and even as a married mom.

Motherhood was messy for me and as I talk to moms around the world, they say the same thing. Motherhood isn’t easy and children don’t come with instructions.

After I became a Christian I remember wondering where all the Titus 2 mentors were and why couldn’t I find someone who could help me in my mom journey.

So, as I sat in the gas station parking lot that day, I wondered what it might look like if the women inside the church walls would mentor young moms, not only there in the church, but also beyond the four walls of the church.

Wouldn’t that be an amazing way to impact our communities and this culture for Christ through the power of mentoring? 

Wow! I love how God placed this idea on your heart after seeing the young pregnant woman at the gas station. Why do you think moms feel so alone and overwhelmed? Why don’t we have more support?

I think there are a multitude of reasons.

    1. We live in a culture of very independent lives. We go home, close the doors and we barely see our neighbors. We grow up learning to be strong and independent, so we often confuse the need for others as some sort of weakness. Sometimes it’s hard to allow ourselves the luxury of having someone speak into our lives and help us along the way.
    2. It’s not always convenient to set aside time to be with other women. We are always on the go taking care of things for our families, so slowing down long enough to nurture other relationships other than the ones within the walls of our homes is very difficult. If we are going to enter into the culture of community that Christ created us for, it will have to be something we are intentional about.
    3. Being a mentor is intimidating. The response I get from almost every woman I have ever asked about mentoring is basically the same… “It’s scary! What would I say? What would I do? What would I use? And I’m not smart enough… or I’m not good enough.”

That’s why I started The M.O.M. Initiative and wrote The Making of a Mom… the provide church with the support and the resources that would give small group leaders and mentors the courage and confidence to step into their Titus 2 shoes.

I wanted to write a book that would answer those 3 questions.

    1. What would I say? There are questions at the end of each chapter that will serve as a catalyst for conversation so leaders won’t wonder what to talk about.
    2. What would I do? There are venue specific Planning Guides at the end of the book that will help leaders know what they can do during their time with a mentee or group of mentees.
    3. What would I use? The Making of a Mom is written to be a resource form moms to read on their own and for the church to use to minister to moms in the midst of their mom journey to help a mom discover what real life biblical motherhood looks like.

The Making of a MomWhat do you hope to accomplish through The M.O.M. Initiative and The Making of a Mom? The ministry was created and the book was written to minister to the hearts of moms who know Christ and to reach those who don’t. While it lays a solid biblical foundation of motherhood and provides 12 key ingredients to the making of a mom, the ministry is evangelistic in nature and the book is a resource for the church to not only weave mentoring into the fabric of the church but to also make mentoring missional and minister to moms who are unchurched.

This is the part where you might think I’m crazy, but I want to change the world.

And if only 3 moms in 1/2 of the churches in the United States would mentor just 3 other mothers, that would translate into reaching a MILLION MOMS for Christ and impacting over 2.5 MILLION CHILDREN!

I can’t get past that. The calling is so compelling and we can literally change the world through missional mentoring.

Mothers mold the heart of the next generation, so if the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world, then the church that mentors those hands will win it.

I’m asking every ministry leader to link hearts and hands with me to help me minister to the precious moms who know Christ…to reach those who don’t and to change the world one mom at a time.

Wow. If only 3 moms in just half of the churches in the U.S. mentored three other moms, we would reach a million moms for Christ and impact over 2.5 million children? That type of impact is incredible. What about it, moms? Let’s join and impact other moms and their children for Christ!

Before you go, can you share with us a few links that would be helpful to my readers?

Absolutely. To find out more about how you can begin a M.O.M. Group, click this link.

To find out how to sign up to be ONE in a MILLION MOMS who would like to be connected with a mentor and raise your children to know Christ, click this link.

Click here to order The Making of a Mom.

The Making of a Mom is definitely going on my TBR shelf! Thank you for being my guest, Stephanie. May the Lord richly bless your ministry and your heart for helping others. For my readers, I have a special gift for you! You can read a sample champter from The Making of a Mom simply by clicking on this link: The Making of a Mom~Chapter Sample

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And now, it’s your turn to enter for a chance to win a copy of The Making of  a Mom. All you have to do is leave a comment about the best (or most difficult) part about being a mom. One winner will be chosen at random and all decisions are final. Sorry, but this giveaway is limited to United States residents. Contest ends July 16, 2014.

21 inspirational Bible verses to comfort and encourage you

Penny Zeller, Christian Author

This life is hard. Everyone, at one time or another, needs to be reminded of God’s love that He reminds us of in His Word. Below are 21 of my favorite Bible verses assuring us of God’s comfort no matter what situation we find ourselves in or what curve ball life throws our way.

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What are some of your favorite verses that you’ve drawn upon in those difficult times?

who inspires you?

Penny Zeller, Christian Author

I recently met a woman in my water aerobics class who is 94-years-old. An inspiration, this woman is sharp in her mind and active in her body. As a matter of fact, she took swimming lessons for the first time at age 84, with the goal of diving off the diving board!

After much hard work, she accomplished her goal.

So many women throughout history are inspiring:

Ruth in the Bible, widowed as a young woman, followed her mother-in-law to her homeland and bravely supported both of them.

Esther of the Bible risked her life to save her people.

The midwives in Egypt in Moses’ time risked their lives to deliver babies against the Pharoah’s wishes.

Or the more recent inspiring women of history:

Eleanor Roosevelt overcame a difficult childhood to become a first lady and champion for human rights. She fought for what she believed in and never gave up.

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Corrie ten Boom, a woman I greatly admire, helped to hide Jews during WWII until caught. She survived the horror of the holocaust in concentration camps during WWII. Her amazing faith allowed her to forgive one of the Nazi guards where she was held. She is a true example of putting into action the message Jesus spoke of forgiveness.

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Joni Eareckson Tada is nothing short of inspirational. A diving accident left her a quad­riplegic when she was just a teenager. While she cannot use her hands, Joni can paint using her mouth. Her faith in the Lord, despite what she has been through, strengthens my own faith.

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Or the inspirational people in my own family:

My grandma, who while in her 80s, lets nothing stop her.

My mom, who while chronically disabled, sets an example of faith for her children, grandchildren, and those at the places where she volunteers.

Everyday is a day we have a chance to inspire others without even knowing it.

Who, past or present, has inspired you?

 

 

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Tweetables:

Who inspires you? (click to tweet)

What women throughout history inspire you? (click to tweet)

These women, past and present, are true inspirations. (click to tweet)

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Movie Monday – Seasons of Gray

Penny Zeller, Christian Author

Today’s Movie Review Monday Movie is Seasons of Gray.

IMG (29)Seasons of Gray is a modern re-telling of the story of Joseph in the Bible. We are introduced to Brady, who deals with his older brothers’ vicious jealousy on a constant basis. The fact that he is their father’s favorite son only fuels the fire, as does Brady’s gift of being able to interpret dreams. When Brady receives a new truck for his birthday, his brothers decide they’ve had enough and take matters into their own hands.

Their ruthless decision forever changes the course of Brady’s life.

But does God still have a plan for Brady’s life despite the horror of what is to come?

Later sentenced to prison based on the words of his boss’s wife, who dishonestly accuses him of assault, Brady is faced with a decision. Does he turn his back on God, or grow in his faith?

That’s not the only major decision of which Brady faces. He’s also faced with yet another dilemma regarding his brothers.

Seasons of Gray has many great discussion points, including:

God’s plan for our lives, even when things go awry (Jeremiah 29:11);

Forgiveness (Matthew 6:14-15; Matthew 18:22);

Being a new creation in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17); and,

What was intended for bad, God can use to accomplish His purposes (Genesis 50:20).

While Seasons of Gray is a family film with nothing objectionable, it does contain thematic elements appropriate only for those 13 and older. There is some violence, but it is tastefully done and not of the typical “Hollywood” variety. Regarding the scene with Brady’s boss’s wife, the issue of sexual assault is also discussed, although not explicitly shown.

Everything about Seasons of Gray is well done. The acting is top-notch, the plot engaging, the story line realistic, and the scenes vivid.

Some movies are “downloads” or “rentals.” And some movies are “to purchase.” Seasons of Gray falls into the latter category. With a clear presentation of the Gospel and must-watch bonus features, I highly recommend it as one of the best movies of 2014.

I am passionate about finding movies suitable for families. For a complete listing of family movie suggestions and an archive of past reviews from a Christian worldview for Movie Monday, please go to my Mom-Approved Movies Page.

For an archived list of movie reviews, go to my newly created Archived Movie Reviews page. This page will be updated regularly to show all movies included in Movie Review Monday.

10 ways to encourage others

Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary defines “encouragement” as “something that makes someone more determined, hopeful, or confident.” In 1 Thessalonians 5:11, the Bible tells us, Therefore encourage one another and build one another up…

So, what are some simple ways we can inspire others?

In everyday life:

  • Give genuine praise and encouragement to family and friends. This can come in the form of how much you appreciate them, value them in your life, or just how much you love them. Little notes of encouragement are big hits. For some ways to encourage your kids, check out my post 9 Ways to Show Your Kids You Love Them.
  • Did you get excellent service at a restaurant ? Tell the waiter and the manager. Did someone at local business go above and beyond? Let them know! The lady who signs members in at our local YMCA always has a smile on her face. She is quick to go the extra mile. I recently told her how much we appreciate her, and I also let her boss know. (This can also be done by completing “survey” or quality-of-service questionnaires available at many businesses).

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  • Encourage a mom. Motherhood is a hard job at times, and what mom doesn’t need a bit of encouragement? A quick word or note letting a mom know she’s doing a good job means a lot. You can even encourage a stranger! What about that mom in the long line at the grocery store with a hungry infant and grouchy toddler? We can discourage by giving a “judgmental” look or we can encourage by asking if we can help unload her groceries onto the conveyer belt or even by a simple sentence, “oh I remember those days!” and a smile.

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  • Be an encourager by mail. In my book 77 Ways Your Family Can Make a Difference: Ideas and Activities for Serving Others, I give ideas on how to Create a Card Ministry. Why not send a card to someone you know is having a difficult time and let them know you are praying for them. This can be done anoymously, or to someone you know. Galatians 6:2 tells us to bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.
  • Encourage other women. What about hosting a Girls Night Out? More details are found under the Sisters in Christ Group tab.

1094303_3_friends_5In Social Media:

  • Retweet someone’s tweet that you find interesting on Twitter. Not only does it help the tweeter, but it also provides useful information to your followers.
  • Tweet about someone’s blog post. There are so many great  blogs out there. If I stumble across one that is on the topics I regularly tweet about (#faith, #motherhood, #humor, #fitness, or #writing) I click on that little “tweet” button on the blog post and wah-lah, that post is shared with my followers.

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  • Mention fellow tweeters in a #FF (Follow Friday) or #WW (Writer Wednesday) tweet.
  • “Like” a post you find interesting on Facebook. Don’t just peruse past it, but “like” it, and even “share” it if you found it be of interest.
  • Did you just finish reading a book that you absolutely loved? Don’t be shy about it ~ spread the word! Post a positive review on Amazon, CBD, Barnes & Noble, or Goodreads. (By the way, this means more to authors than you will ever know – trust me on this one!)

Each and every day, we all have a chance to be either an encourager or a discourager.

Which one will you be?

I’d love to hear some of your favorite ways of encouraging others.

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Tweetables:

10 ways to encourage others (click to tweet)

How can you be an encouragement to others? (click to tweet)

Encouraging others in their walk through life (click to tweet)

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