The two best things we can offer. The Savior - and ourselves.

Giving of oneself to care for God’s people means sharing one’s life and home with others. An open home is a sign of a loving, sacrificial, serving spirit. A lack of hospitality is a sure sign of selfish, lifeless, loveless Christianity. - Alexander Strauch

Had I read this quote 15-20 years ago it would have made me cry because I was embarrassed to invite people to our "imperfect" home. I thought people cared about landscape and flooring and furniture and decor. I thought people only appreciated fancy buffets overflowing with food and drink. I thought they needed things to do or they would be bored and consider us terrible hosts.
You see, I had confused the act of hospitality - with entertainment.

The Lord had to teach me that entertainment can be found anywhere, and offered by anyone.
Hospitality, however, is purposeful, intentional, and an act of love.

First, He placed a wonderful little book in my hands. I cannot recall the title or the author, but I remember the author's words as if I read them yesterday. The book was written during the peak of Martha Stewart's rise to fame when women were running themselves ragged trying to create the perfect table setting, centerpiece, Easter egg designs, and homemade Christmas ornaments. Joy was being sucked out of hosting. By the time the hostess finished etching her family's likeness into the pumpkins lining the staircase and hand-stamping every piece of wrapping paper, she had nothing left to give to the people sitting on her couch because she was exhausted. The guests came to spend time with family and friends. They did not arrive hoping to find a personal cheese wheel in the shape of their initials made from the milk of the goats roaming in the backyard.

Now, for some, the descriptions above cause their eyes to light up and make their fingers itch to pin more ideas to their Pinterest board for future events. "Personalized cheese wheels?!? I am so doing that!" They are creative, see beauty in everything, and love details. They whistle a happy tune while painting the resurrection scene on twelve dozen cookies, hum while carving personalized bath soaps for each guest, and twirl through the house while stringing laced garland cut and sewn together from every wedding dress worn in the family. And then, when the front door swings open the guests are greeted by a smiling hostess and a warm hug, causing every person who walks through the door to feel it was all done - just for them. What a gift! And what a joy for those who enter their homes!

This focus of that little book was simple. It does not matter whether you live in a mansion or a shack, have $20,000 worth of antique furniture or stains on your carpet and couch, or serve filet mignon on china dishes or grilled cheese and pickles on paper plates - INVITE PEOPLE INTO YOUR HOME.
Why? Because we were created for relationships. We need connection. Where we are, what it looks like, and what we eat or drink does not matter. We do not need aesthetics to build relationships.
We need each other

This shift in thinking changed everything for me in terms of the purpose behind hospitality. Sadly, however, the Lord still had another obstacle to tackle. My pride. We lived in apartments or rental homes in which we could not choose the paint, the carpet, or anything else. We were stuck with "what was" rather than what we wanted. And I was embarrassed. Whenever someone entered our home for the first time I would declare, "This is a rental! We did not choose the mauve carpet or the glittered stucco!" I worried that they would judge me based on my hand-me-down furniture, the 70's tile, or the meager snacks sitting on the counter. Instead of pouring all of my energy into my guests, I directed it toward my fear of man and my pride.
And then Dennis stepped in.
I do not remember the genesis of the conversation, but his words are etched into my brain. After a whining/complaining/rant about how ugly the house was, how we could not afford to change it, etc. etc., he looked me square in the eye and said, "Michelle. That is ENOUGH. You may not like this house and you may not like our budget, but your attitude is deplorable and you need to repent. The Lord provided this house for us, with a rent price well under market value so we can afford it. He allowed us to live next door to the high school so I can walk to work and we can live with only one car. He continually provides for all of our needs and even some of our wants. So instead of whining, how about giving THANKS for the countless blessings that surround you?"
Rebuke: Heard and Received
I never complained about that house (or any other place we lived) again.

The last thing the Lord did to settle this lesson once and for all happened more than a decade later.

The Lord sat me in front of an older woman at a booth in Panera Bakery. I was struggling with rejection and people-pleasing and asked her to speak truth to me. She did. She leaned across the table with a serious countenance and asked, "Why do you keep chasing people who don't want you? Instead of trying to become something different to everyone just to make them happy for the moment, you need to focus on the people the LORD drops in front of you. The Good Samaritan did not go looking for someone to save. He saved the man he tripped over in the road. Pay attention to the ones God places in your path, Michelle, and then serve them."
That was the night the Lord revealed that hospitality blends beautifully - with ministry.

Good hospitality is making your home a hospital. The idea is that friends and family and wounded and weary people come to your home and leave helped and refreshed. - Kevin DeYoung
For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.’ The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’ Matthew 25

I used to think that hospitality meant impressing people. But I was wrong. Hospitality is about making people feel welcome and wanted and treating them with the same love given to us by the Savior. They do not show up on our doorstep hoping to be entertained and impressed. They knock on our door because they want us. And outside of taking them to the feet of Jesus, that is the best gift we have to offer - ourselves.


What will he see when I am old?

When a friend asks if you would like to read books about marriage with her over the summer, make sure you are prepared for what is to come!

I thought reading books about marriage would be fairly painless since we are in a good place right now. Alas, I was wrong. It is simply impossible to look into the mirror God holds before your face without seeing how short you fall when you compare yourself to His standards.

Dennis and I have always been willing to share the truth about our marriage. We struggled more than was necessary for the first few years because we were foolish and immature in every way. We bumbled our way through another decade without accountability or guidance. BUT GOD, through His faithfulness, saved us from ourselves and taught us how to live with each other with understanding, forgiveness, acceptance, and grace.
We are not the same people we were when we said "I do" (praise the Lord!), but we still have a lot to learn about "outdoing one another in honor."

Great marriages do not just happen. Great marriages exist because both people are willing to give the marriage everything they've got, and when they have nothing to give, they can admit it, and ask for grace.
As long as we are alive, we will sin. We will make mistakes, disappoint, hurt, and offend one another, and misinterpret and make assumptions - instead of giving each other the benefit of the doubt and assuming the best. (Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. I Corinthians 13:7) It is easy to bear and endure all things when you love each other, like each other, and life is going as planned. But what happens when this is not the case? What happens when selfishness replaces sacrifice? What happens when the outside pressures of life press so hard against you that you both lose sight of what matters? Rebellious children - Disapproving parents - Strained friendships - Sickness - Financial stresses - Unmet expectations ... will you bear with one another and endure those things together? Confessing, forgiving, and loving one another when you are at your worst?

Dennis and I have seen each other's worst. More than once. We have been gracious and forgiving toward one another, and we have been spiteful and mean toward one another. We always make up, but we do not always do it quickly. We forgive, but sometimes we let bitterness take root before we do. We overlook offenses as Scripture commands, but sometimes choose to make one a hill to die on. In short - we are two siners trying to live with each other in a way that glorifies God - but the only time we succeed is when we are fully immersed in Scripture, prayer, and fellowship with other believers because it is only then that we are able to let go of Self and outdo the other in honor.

Neither one of us ever has, or ever will claim that we have it all together when it comes to our marriage (or any other topic for that matter). We praise God that He did not let us stay the immature 20-something's we were when we pledged our vows to one another, and now we beg Him to continue to mature us, refine us, and strip away more of Self every single day because it is the one thing that keeps us from being the godly husband or wife He calls us to be. Self or the Savior - it is a daily choice. We chose Self far too many times the first decade of our marriage, so our desire is to deny Self more and more so that when we are an old, wrinkled, shrunken couple we can look at each other and declare, "Hey! You look like Jesus! I hardly see any of YOU!"

I pray the following quotes and truths from this wonderful book (chapter five) will challenge you. They struck a blow to my conscience and revealed how very much I need to grow as a wife and as a woman of God.
Thank You, Lord! These words are timely and good. Now, please give me the humility to make the changes needed so I can love and serve Dennis better, and in a way that honors You.

You simply can't continually rehearse in your heart all someone's perceived wrongs against you and grow in affection toward him or her.

No change takes place in a marriage that does not begin with confession.
Confession is the doorway to growth and change in your relationship. It is essential. It is fundamental. Without it you are relegated to a cycle of repeated and deepening patterns of misunderstanding, wrong, and conflict.

It is a grace to know right from wrong.
Accurate diagnosis always precedes effective cure.

It is a grace to understand the concept of indwelling sin.
One of the most tempting fallacies for us ... is to believe that our greatest problems exist outside us rather than inside us.
You know that you have been gifted with grace when you are able to say, "My greatest marital problem is me."

It is a grace to have a properly functioning conscience.
It is a perverse ability to that all sinners have - to become progressively comfortable with things that should shock, grieve, and embarrass us.

It is a sign of God's grace when our consciences are sensitive and our hearts are grieved, not at what the other person is doing, but at what we have become.

It is a grace to see ourselves with accuracy.
Few things prevent change more than a distorted sense of self. Few things are more needed than eyes to see ourselves with clarity and accuracy.

It is a grace to be willing to listen and consider criticism and rebuke.
It takes grace to be ready to listen and willing to hear.
It takes grace to quiet our mind, to focus our attention, and to settle our heart so that we can actually receive the help that God is offering us in the moment of unexpected confrontation.

Healthy relationships have two essential character qualities:
the humility of approachability and
the courage of loving honesty.

It is a grace not to be paralyzed by regret.
It's hard enough to consider our present weakness and failure. It is even harder to consider the fruit that weakness and failure have produced over the years. So, rather than giving in to the temptation to run and hide, we need to run where help can be found.
As we face regret, we bask in forgiveness and then turn to live in a new way, embracing the power that is ours as children of God.

Daily Habits of a Confession Lifestyle
We will be lovingly honest
We will be humble when exposed
We will not excuse
We will be quick to admit wrongs
We will listen and examine
We will greet confession with encouragement
We will be patient, persevering, and gentle in the face of wrong
We will not return to the past
We will put our hope in Christ

When the shadow of the cross hangs over our marriage, we live and relate differently. We are no longer afraid to look at ourselves. We are no longer surprised by our sin. We no longer have to work to present ourselves as righteous.
We say goodbye to finger-pointing and self -excusing. We abandon our record of wrongs. We settle issues quickly.
And we do all these things because we know that everything we need to confess has already been forgiven, and what is needed for every new step we will take has already been supplied.
We can live in the liberating light of humility and honesty, a needy and tender sinner living with a needy and tender sinner, no longer defensive and no longer afraid, together growing nearer to one another as we grow to be more like Him.

Quotes. On GRACE.

I came across these terrific quotes about grace while preparing for a devotion.
Sometimes a few words are more impactful than a thousand words could ever be.

"A man can no more take in a supply of grace for the future than 
he can eat enough today to last him for the next six months, 
nor can he inhale sufficient air into his lungs with one breath to sustain life for a week to come. 
We are permitted to draw upon God's store of grace from day to day as we need it."
- Dwight L. Moody

"Extraordinary afflictions are not always the punishment of extraordinary sins, but sometimes the trial of extraordinary graces. Sanctified afflictions are spiritual promotions.”
- Matthew Henry

"Christian, remember the goodness of God in the frost of adversity." 
- Charles Spurgeon

"God never gives strength for tomorrow, or for the next hour, but only for the strain of the minute." 
- Oswald Chambers


Quote. The importance of reading Scripture.

"Oh, how I love Your law! I meditate on it all day long!" Psalm 119:97

It is well to meditate upon the things of God - because it is only by pondering the Scriptures that we get the real nutriment out of them. A man who hears many sermons - is not necessarily well-instructed in the faith. We may read so many religious books that we overload our brains, and they may be unable to work under the weight of the great mass of paper and of printer's ink.

The man who reads but one book, and that book his Bible, and then meditates much upon it - will be a better scholar in Christ's school than he who merely reads hundreds of books, and does not meditate at all!

Oh, that we might get into the very heart of the Word of God - and get that Word into ourselves!

As I have seen the silkworm eat into the leaf and consume it, so ought we to do with the Word of the Lord - not crawl over its surface, but eat right into it until we have taken it into our inmost parts. It is idle merely to let the eye glance over the words, or to recollect the poetic expressions, or the historic facts; but it is blessed to eat into the very soul of the Bible until, at last, you come to talk in Scriptural language, and your very style is fashioned upon Scripture models - and, what is better still, your spirit is redolent with the words of the Lord!

"Your words were found, and I devoured them, and Your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart!" Jeremiah 15:16

"Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful!" 

Joshua 1:8

- Charles Spurgeon


24 years - and counting!

24 years.

How far we have come since the day we said, "I do."
It is only because of the grace of a Heavenly Father who carried and pushed us through the difficult, frustrating, painful, sad, and sinful moments of marriage when we had neither the strength nor the desire to keep on going that we can declare with confidence, "I love you, and I am in this forever."
On our own, we would have given up many times.
On our own, we would have allowed outside pressures to destroy us as a couple.
On our own, we would have allowed selfishness and pride keep us from being faithful and committed to one another physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
On our own, our marriage would be a complete failure.

Every day He pours new mercies over us.
He forgives our sins against one another and tosses them into the deepest part of the ocean
to be remembered no more.
He faithfully turns us from selfishness so we can serve each other instead of serving ourselves.
He continually holds up a mirror to show us who we really are, removing all blind spots, correcting our assumptions and pride so we can look at each other through clear, grace-filled eyes.
He loves us as we are so we can learn to love each other the same way.

We are not perfect.
We do not always respond to God's goodness immediately or with joy.
We do not always stop our ugly words before they tumble out of our mouths, nor do we run to each other with confessions and a plea for forgiveness every time we offend one another.
But we want to.
We desire to be a couple who draws others in, not because we are wonderful, but because they see something real, something honest, and something genuine about us.
What we want them to see - is Christ.
Which means each of us has to pursue Him like a drowning man gasping for a breath of air - with a relentless, all-consuming, singular focus - so that we look much more like Him than we look like us.

On our own, Dennis and I have nothing to offer each other but the most meager affection.
With Christ? The possibilities are endless.

Thank You, Dennis, for 24 years of loving an imperfect, selfish, rough-edged woman in need of much forgiveness and grace. You have served, comforted, corrected and rebuked, encouraged, supported, and challenged me in unique ways, and I know that I am better because of the way the Lord has used you to refine me day by day, year by year. I love you ~ Michelle


What do my children think of me?

This little note taped to my kitchen cabinet sparked some interesting conversations during our 4th of July celebration. Our neighborhood hosts an annual Block Party, and we have approximately 60 friends filter through our house every year when they come to join in the festivities. Usually, I remove any personal notes when I put away books and other paraphernalia for large events, but for some reason, this one stayed put.
I didn't think anything about it until one of our young adults caught me in the kitchen and asked (with a curious and somewhat confused expression), "Mrs. Eastman? What is a "Mom Poll?"
I laughed and said, "Twice a year I ask my children to assess me as a mom. I know I have blind spots, so I want to make sure that my personal self-assessment matches their own assessment."
"Huh. So ... what kind of questions do you ask them?"
"Well, I ask what they would change about me, if I am meeting their needs, and if I cause them to stumble into sin."
And the conversation continued for another ten minutes.

Two days later, Luke said to me, "Sooooo, your little "Mom Poll" note on the cupboard sure created a stir!"
"What do you mean?"
"Every woman and girl that talked to me had seen it when they were getting food in the kitchen and asked what it meant."
"What did you tell them?"
"I said that a couple times every year you ask us if you are a horrible mother and then ask how you can be a better one."
"Um, okay. That is a rather broad definition. Did you give examples of questions so they understand the actual purpose of it?
"Nah. I didn't want to think that deeply at the moment."
<insert Mom eye roll here>

Though the questions are mine, I give credit to my dear aunt for this exercise. She was a great example to me of how easy and important it is to have an open dialogue with children and teens. She did not tell me she did this - I witnessed the conversations myself. And I was fascinated. She willingly humbled herself, placing herself on the same level as her kids so she could seek to understand what was going on in their hearts and minds. They told her things they loved about her, of course, but what blew me away was how easily they could be honest with her, telling her freely, yet respectfully, what they did not like/appreciate/enjoy about her as a mom. Even more impressive - she accepted their words with grace. She did not pout, get defensive, or walk away in a huff. She simply asked more questions, and they responded. Words, explanations, tears, frustration, understanding, compromises, hugs, and "I love you" followed. I said to myself, as a teenage girl, "I want this with my own children. Freedom to speak openly and honestly - with purpose."
Fast forward 30+ years later - I am doing it! Following her example, and reaping the same benefits and blessings she enjoyed decades ago. Thank You, Lord, for surrounding me with godly and wise women when I was a child and a teen, and as an adult. Much of my parenting comes from the wisdom and creativity shown by many who walked before me ... and I am grateful!

This is one of my favorite activities with my children. I do it with all of them ... ages 17 to 6 ... and I learn a lot about myself - and my children. The first few years I was nervous, fearing I would score an "F" as a mother, but as it turns out, they are far more gracious with me than I am with myself. I am always surprised by this truth when we walk through their assessments together until I remember that my children are not looking for "Supermom." They just want ME. And "me" is something I can give them. Every single day. ❤

Mom Assessment ~ Summer 2017

What areas do you feel I am succeeding as a mom? (with you personally)

In what areas do you think I can/should improve as a mom? (with you personally)

Do you see any hypocrisy in me - in word and/or deed?

In what areas do you feel I am inconsistent?

Do I encourage you in your walk with the Lord?

Is there anything I do that causes you to stumble in your walk with the Lord?

What can I do to encourage/challenge/hold you accountable in your pursuit of godliness?

Do you feel loved by me?

Do you feel like you get enough of my time and/or attention?
    If not, what would “enough” look like to you?

If you could change one thing about me as a mom, what would you change?

What do you appreciate about me as a mom?

If there was one thing I could do better that would make our relationship stronger and more secure, what would it be?



Most Christians don't hear God's voice because we've already decided we aren't going to do what He says. 
- A. W. Tozer


23 years - and I still have much to learn.

Jill and I just completed our third week of reading about the wonderful topic of marriage. Not only do we exchange our notes, we also have the benefit of discussing them each week when we see each other at the beach. Boy, do we confess much to each other! It is wonderful to do such a study with someone who is willing to be transparent about herself as a wife and as a woman because it frees me to be equally as transparent - and work gets done!
Dennis and I have been married almost 24 years, and while we praise God that we are not the same people who said, "I do," we are still two sinners trying to live together in an understanding way, and we do not always succeed.
How thankful I am to belong to a God who not only forgives, but gives us second, third, and 3,224 chances to try again. Without His mercy and grace, our marriage never would have survived, and we are both acutely aware that we owe every day of our 23 years - to Him.

✦ "Obstacles arise, anger flares up, and weariness dulls our feelings ... 
maturity is reached by continuing to move forward past the pain and apathy. Falls are inevitable. We can't always control whether or not we fall, but we can control the direction to which we fall - toward or away from our spouse."

✦ "Christian love is an aggressive movement and an active commitment. In reality, we choose where to place our affections."

✦ "... the opposite of biblical love isn't hate; it's apathy."

✦ "Conflict provides an avenue for spiritual growth. To resolve conflict, by definition, we must become more engaged, not less. Just when we want to tell the other person off, we are forced to be quiet and listen to their complaint. Just when we are most eager to make ourselves understood, we must strive to understand. Just when we seek to air our grievances, we must labor to comprehend another's hurt.
For such compromise to work, there must be numerous mini-funerals. We must choose to die to ourselves and to give ground, and, conversely, not to gloat when ground is given to us."

✦ "One of marriage's primary purposes is to teach us how to forgive.
Sin in marriage (on the part of both spouses) is a daily reality, an ongoing struggle that threatens to hold us back. You will never find a spouse who is without sin. The person you decide to marry will eventually hurt you - sometimes even intentionally, making forgiveness an essential spiritual discipline."

✦ "... true forgiveness is a process, not an event."

✦ "The very definition of the word sacrifice means that sacrifice isn't sacrifice unless it costs us something.
The beauty of marriage is that it confronts our selfishness and demands our service twenty-four hours a day. When we're most tired, most worn-out, and feeling more sorry for ourselves than we ever have before, we have the opportunity to confront feelings of self-pity by getting up and serving our mate."

✦ "I believe God designed marriage, in part, to "pinch our feet." Both men and women need to have their pride assaulted. All of us, men and women alike, if we are to become like Christ, must, by definition, learn to become servants. And marriage gives us the opportunity to do just that."

✦ "Each day we must die to our own desires and rise as a servant. Each day we are called to identify with the suffering Christ on the cross and then be empowered by the resurrected Christ. We die to our expectations, our demands, and our fears. We rise to compromise, service, and courage."

Lord! Help! Twenty-three years of marriage has allowed me to grow and mature, but not enough. Make me more like You, Lord, because when I look like me I make a mess of things. Teach me how to be humble, confessing my sins and faults to Dennis, and teach me to be a servant who desires to give comfort to my husband before serving myself. On my own, I will fail as a wife, but with You, I can give more, serve more, forgive and overlook more, and love more. Not because I have to - but because I want to.



"Naked I came from my mother's womb - and naked I will depart. The LORD gave - and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised." Job 1:21

Believers are free from condemnation - but not free from pain, sickness, poverty, losses, crosses, sudden trying changes, and what we call premature death.

He who gave - has an undoubted right to take away. We are sure that His sovereignty is combined with His infinite wisdom and goodness - and that, when He crosses our wishes, no less than when He grants them - He does all things well! He does not afflict without a need-be - neither will He permit a trial to continue longer than is necessary. Be still, my soul, and know that He is God!

You are in the best hands - and I leave you with Him who loves you and will make all things work for your final benefit.

Oh, the mercy to be enabled to trust ourselves and those whom we love - to Him, and to see them confiding in Him likewise and resigned to His wise disposal. This all-sufficient God can and does make His people more than equal to any and every trial He appoints for them.

But I am a poor creature - and am daily learning that without Him I can do nothing.

- John Newton (John Newton's Letters)