It’s Birthday Week & My Bible Studies Are On Sale!

For many years before I published anything, I felt I should be writing. And, in an act of even more fear/stubbornness, I had people telling me I should be writing and I still didn’t do it! I lead with this story of resistance because, while it may not be writing, many of us can identify with feeling like we are supposed to do something but we haven’t done it yet. If this is you, I just wanted to say it’s probably not too late, and even delayed compliance can be been pretty darn satisfying. Okay, on to the studies!

For those who are unfamiliar with these books, I thought I would pass along a brief synopsis of each. And then, if you are so inclined, pick up one (or a few!) this week until March 8th while they are on sale for my birthday week. Descriptions below…

Anne Rulo Bible Studies Philippians Colossians James Cultivating Joy The God Blanket When Faith Does

Cultivating Joy (Philippians)

Cultivating Joy was the very first study I put out in 2018. It covers the book of Philippians and the practices and principles Paul uses to cultivate joy, rather than frustration or disappointment. It has a lot of practical applications that are influenced by my training as a mental health therapist and more than a few amusing thoughts and stories. As with all of the studies, it is designed with all of the verses, reading, and questions included for five weeks of study, four days of study per week. To order link here.

The God Blanket (Colossians)

The God Blanket came out in the fall of 2020 and was a unique labor of love during the pandemic. Of the three, it is the most “theologically dense” and challenged me in research and history in ways the others did not. It has some neat ties to the Old Testament and, despite the intensity of some of the text, consistently returns to a theme of us forever and always being “covered” by Christ’s sacrifice. As with all of the studies, it is designed with all of the verses, reading, and questions included for five weeks of study, four days of study per week. To order link here.

When Faith Does (James)

I have a unique affection for each book, kind of the way you feel about children’s unique personalities. James came out in the fall of 2022 and was a totally different experience. Not only was it my first book not authored by Paul, but James’s teaching is so direct. If you are looking for a grace-covered kick in the pants, this is your study. It’s hard but good, just as life and God are sometimes. I love the way he asks us to change and how convinced I am to do so as he makes his case. As with all of the studies, it is designed with all of the verses, reading, and questions included for five weeks of study, four days of study per week. To order link here.

Just as I started, I will end. I’m so glad I started writing. It has been more satisfying than I ever imagined. And, it’s been even cooler that people actually care to read what I write. Thanks for all the support folks and I encourage you to jump on in if God is calling you to something. It’s a wild and awesome ride.

The Beauty of Long Friendship

Writing over at the Glorious Table about long friendships and Amish Friendship Bread. It’s a good combo. See below for a preview or link to the full post here.

Many years ago, someone gave me a “starter” of Amish friendship bread. As I don’t cook, bake, or really do much of anything that falls under the “domestically gifted” category, I had never done this before. I remember holding that bag of goo and reading the instructions, learning that I had to do something to it each day for (wait for it) ten days! For those familiar with this patience-developing pastry, this will not shock you. But, for a girl whose idea of baking mostly includes breaking apart pre-made cookie dough squares that are done in 10-12 minutes, this was quite a stretch.

As ridiculous as it seemed to repeatedly squash a bag of goo for ten days, occasionally adding ingredients, I did it. Why? Partly because I was curious, partly because I am a compulsive rule-follower, and partly because I had been given the bag of goo from a friend and I felt obligated. You can’t give a bag of goo with instructions to a girl like me and not expect it to be followed, at least once. What I didn’t see coming was how many times I was going to follow those ten days of instructions. Because, as it turns out, Amish friendship bread is incredible.

The first time I got to the ten-day mark, I was excited to see what all the fuss was about. I’m reasonably sure that I must have either gone out and purchased a loaf pan or, got out a wedding present that I had never used before to hold the long-suffering goo. I put it in the oven as directed, occupied myself for the required hour of cooking (again, what is with the patience needed for this bread?!), and then dumped its sugary-crusted cinnamon-y awesomeness out onto a cooling rack. I know I said I’m no chef but even I could tell, this looked and smelled incredible.

Needless to say, the Amish friendship bread did not make it through its first evening in our home. Even with no children yet in our family, my husband and I finished it in one night. Knowing it was going to take ten more days to enjoy another one, I got another bag of goo going. And again. And again. I cannot tell you how many rounds of ten days we waited on that bread until eventually, at some point, we decided to cut ourselves off. As wonderful as it was, it probably wasn’t good for either of us to keep eating a full loaf of it in one day, even if it was every ten days. But I’m sure glad for the experience, and the parallels it made along the way.

Anne Rulo The Beauty of Long Friendship

Amish Friendship Bread Mimics Life

Amish friendship bread gets its name from its origins in the Amish culture and community. The history I read suggests that this was originally a simple sourdough starter that was served regularly in Amish homes. Additionally, the easily sharable starter bags were also shared with sick or needy families so they could maintain a bread supply in their own homes. From there, it seems to have developed into more of a dessert or creative baked good, passing between groups of friends for years to facilitate community and connection.

The parallels of the bread itself to the process of friendship aren’t hard to make but, now having friendships that have lasted as long as some of these starter batches have been around, I’m excited to list a few of them…

To read these connections link to the full post here.

God Knows We Worry About Our Children

As one of the most frequently repeated concepts in the Bible, God knew we needed a lot of reminding to not fear, not be afraid, not worry, etc. And, for so many things I feel like I can get on board with that. But, for a handful of others, it feels extra hard. Like health concerns. And sick parents. And losing jobs. Oh yeah, and our children. As far as I’ve been able to discern, there is apparently no asterisk in the Bible that says, “Do not worry” (*except about your children). How the heck are we supposed to do that?!

Anne Rulo God Knows We Worry About Our Children

As a counselor, I know that simply telling someone not to worry is super unhelpful. We want strategies! And, I don’t believe for one second that God is insensitive to how hard it is for us to not be afraid or not worry about something as precious as our children. Of course, He’s given us some obvious tools like prayer and specific verses about parenting. But, He’s also tucked away some additional gems. I wanted to share one I came across one just the other day.

Check out this oft-quoted section of Psalm 127 here:

Children are a heritage from the Lord,
    offspring a reward from him.
Like arrows in the hands of a warrior
    are children born in one’s youth.
Blessed is the man
    whose quiver is full of them.
They will not be put to shame
    when they contend with their opponents in court.
(Ps. 127:3-5)

And now, the verses just before that:

1Unless the Lord builds the house,
    the builders labor in vain.
Unless the Lord watches over the city,
    the guards stand watch in vain.
In vain you rise early
    and stay up late,
toiling for food to eat—
    for he grants sleep to those he loves.
(Ps. 127:1-2)

That’s it. The entirety of Psalm 127 is five verses, half about children and half about laboring in vain. I propose this is not by accident. God knows how so many of us labor “in vain” over our children thinking that if we just keep trying hard enough, we will finally manage to be and do and give everything they need—until we are exhausted. And, in doing so, forget that He is the one who really does all that.

Remember, when used correctly, God’s Word always intends to bring about freedom. Consider the applications offered here…

(v.1a) Unless the Lord builds our homes, we are just spinning our wheels. Exhausting ourselves to make sure our children have everything we think they need, access to every opportunity, and avoidance of every hardship leaves little room for how He might build their lives. He offers us the freedom to trust He is building them, rather than exhausting ourselves to make sure they experience “our” best standards.

(v.1b) Rather than perpetually standing guard over their lives, we could find ourselves able to breathe knowing that God is watching over them, with a better view than we will ever have. He offers us the freedom to reduce the intensity of our vigilance, knowing that He is with them as they grow in independence, ability, risk, etc. Visualizing Him standing guard brings great peace.

(v.2) And, this final part from verse two really got me. What if, as parents, we wholesale reject the idea that good parents are always supposed to be exhausted? Instead, He offers us permission to accept help and pursue normal human amounts of rest instead of rising early, staying up late, and toiling. For He loves us, and “He grants sleep to those He loves.” A rested mind is far less likely to fall into irrational worry.

Whatever you are “toiling in vain” for today, please know you are not alone. Each of us has things that fall into this *very-hard-not-to-worry category because fear is such a strong motivator. May each of us seek to remove whatever our “worry asterisks” are. And, may the permissions and reminders given in this Psalm help us reduce the ways we are “laboring in vain”, allowing God to build, guard, and grant us the rest He designed.

PS – For those who are interested in an extra fun fact, Psalm 127 is one of 15 Psalms known as “Songs of Ascent.” These were the songs sung by Hebrew pilgrims to encourage them as they headed uphill to Jerusalem for annual festivals at the Temple.

A word from God designed to encourage a routine uphill journey toward worship? If that’s not a message to bless parenting I don’t know what is.

Photo by Xavier Mouton Photographie on Unsplash, used with permission

Talk to Me About That

Writing over at The Glorious Table today about the gap that so often exists between how we think and how God thinks. See below for a preview or link to the full post here.

In college, I ran through several majors. To be more explicit, I ran through seven majors. At one point, I was an elementary education major. But it turns out you can’t just think kids are cute and be a teacher. You have to like kids and want to educate them. I figured out rather quickly that I did not have either of these traits. I transferred to another major shortly after that.

However, even during my short tenure as an elementary education major, I absorbed some important lessons about kids. One of the most salient was regarding their artwork. I remember distinctly learning not to interpret a kid’s artwork for them by saying something like, “Oh! What a nice picture of a dog!” only to have them potentially collapse in tears, “That’s not a dog, that’s a horse!” Instead, my instructors taught us to say, “Well done! Talk to me about that,” so the child received our attention, our enthusiasm, and the opportunity to explain their creation from their own perspective.

Fast-forwarding to now, I am a parent myself, and I have a creative daughter. This child is forever painting, sketching, or “theater-ing”. While sometimes I can clearly see what she has drawn or understand her stories, sometimes I cannot. Once she explains these things to me, I think, “Phew, I’m so glad I asked. I totally had that one wrong.” The lesson I learned all those years ago to say, “Talk to me about that,” has proved useful again and again.

How Wide Is the Gap in Our Interpretations?

As I was reflecting on this advice for interpreting kids’ creations, it occurred to me that there is a strong parallel between those scenarios and faith. I don’t know how many times I’ve said, “Huh, I wonder what this means? How am I supposed to interpret this?” Or, less wisely, “Oh, this must mean God is saying yes (or no).” I can think of no place more important than our faith where we ought to regularly check in with the creator and say, “Hey God! Talk to me about that.”

Anne Rulo The Glorious Table Talk to Me About That

It seems important to review more than a few lines in Scripture that talk about the distance between God’s plan or thoughts and our ability to interpret them (emphasis mine):

  • “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight” (Prov. 3:5-6 NIV).
  • “Great is our Lord and mighty in power; his understanding has no limit” (Ps. 147:5 NIV).
  • “In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps” (Prov. 16:9 NIV).
  • “Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom” (Isa. 40:28 NIV).
  • And, maybe most clearly said, “‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the Lord, ‘As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts” (Isa. 55:9).

When Is Asking for God’s Interpretation Important?

The short answer to this question is “always.” But, for the sake of real-life application, here are some times when God’s message may seem obvious, but we would benefit from checking in to make sure our interpretation is correct.

  1. When it seems like an obvious win or loss.
  2. When we’re suffering.
  3. When we’re sailing along.

To read the full explanation of these three examples, link here for the full post.

Anne Rulo: Speaking Events

As promised, here’s the follow-up to when I shared about marriage speaking events with my husband. And, speaking of my husband, I would like to take this opportunity to officially blame him for all this. I had no intention of speaking in my career. But, then he started doing it and sucked me in. He’s that kind of guy, always visioneering for others, and, before you know it, you’re doing things you never thought you would. Fair warning, if you ever meet him he’ll likely try to talk you into dreaming bigger.

My Journey To Speaking Professionally

Okay, with that caveat in place, I wanted to share where this adventure of speaking has brought me. As a backdrop, my formal training is as a licensed professional counselor and marriage and family therapist. My grown-up jobs have been in the Division of Youth Services, working with adjudicated youth with tough backgrounds, and in the Wellness Center at Westminster College, working with college students on whatever difficulties brought them in. Additionally, I have been in some sort of lay ministry for 20+ years either through Young Life, FCA, the local church, or by association through my husband’s role as a teacher and coach.

Anne Rulo Speaking

Speaking Topic: Suicide Prevention

I speak on two mental health topics most frequently, the first being suicide prevention. I kind of stumbled into this at Westminster College when I became a QPR (Question, Persuade, Refer) trainer. That certification allowed me to speak with students and staff each semester on suicide prevention. Fast forward and I have now taken those frequent engagements, my own training and experience as a therapist, and years working with young people to speak with educators and students 6th-12th grade about this difficult topic. The feedback I get most often is that this training helps people understand suicide/suicidal persons in a more compassionate way and feel better equipped to know what to do/how to respond if they find themselves or someone else in a mental health crisis. Click here to bring this presentation to your group or school.

Speaking Topic: Burnout Recovery & Prevention

While this is a topic I speak on frequently as well, it has developed more recently. The Covid-19 pandemic, the prevalence of hustle culture, and 24/7 digital access have created a uniquely intense environment for burnout. And while the overall concept is applicable to all, the primary audiences I speak with are teachers and administrators. The impact of these factors on those in helping professions such as teaching is particularly profound. When I meet with teachers and administrators we explore the concept of burnout, how elements of our education system tend to lend themselves to burnout patterns, and how both individuals and the system can operate in different ways to promote wellness and recovery. Click here to bring this presentation to your group or school.

Speaking Topic: Women’s Events/A la Carte

There’s no succinct way to describe this last section so, I’ll borrow a concept from the restaurant industry and label it a la carte. In addition to the two subjects above, I typically speak several times each year at women’s events or non-profit organizations. These events range from the intersection of faith and mental health, motherhood/parenting, women’s faith topics, grief, creativity, etc. And while these may vary in title, anywhere I speak I carry a torch for living your experience with vulnerability, authenticity, bravery, self-compassion, and connection with others. Click here if you are interested in chatting with me about this type of speaking engagement for your group or organization.

To close, while speaking was not on my personal agenda for my career, it has been such a blessing for me and, hopefully, those I am able to share with. I am grateful when people gain knowledge through these experiences, but especially when that knowledge translates into bigger and better compassion for oneself and others. Click here to explore any of my or my husband’s speaking topics, testimonials, or to listen to podcasts that will give you a sense of the kind of humor and approach we bring.

Tim & Anne Rulo: Marriage Event Speakers

I’ve been writing and speaking for quite a few years. In that time, sometimes I get to talk about fun stuff and, sometimes it’s about tough stuff. But, today is a first because while the topic itself isn’t difficult, the angle is. I’m talking about myself, my husband, and what we do as a job sometimes. And, while people in the biz will say “it’s not self-promotion, it’s offering your gifts” until the cows come home, I expect I’ll still always feel a bit awkward about it. So, here we go, bring on the cows.

Tim Anne Rulo Marriage Event Speakers

Top 5 Things My Husband and I Love About Marriage Events

  1. We get to talk about how we got started. By this, I mean we get to talk about how, over a decade ago, a couple who was supposed to lead an FCA Coaches Marriage Event event had to back out of a Sunday morning session. In a moment of complete naive compulsion, we went up to the director and said, “Hey, he’s a coach and I’m a licensed marriage and family therapist. Want us to fill in?” That next morning, we gave our first talk/comedy routine and we were hooked. We really enjoyed caring for others in this way.

  2. Our bent toward vulnerability is welcome. I don’t know why, but Tim and I don’t seem to have many airs. I don’t say this to be prideful, I say it to tell you that I am the kind of girl who owns what she’s not good at (i.e. cooking) and, as a couple, we regularly wear sweatpants to the store. Personality-wise, this seems to translate as marriage speakers who are real about how awesome marriage can be and how messy it can be sometimes too. At the end of one of our talks a few years ago, a man came up to us and asked if either of us were “in recovery.” If you know anything about the addiction community, this was a huge compliment. He had asked because we were so vulnerable.

  3. We are qualified. Ooh, that was hard to type (can you hear the cows?) but, it is true. I am a licensed marriage and family therapist and my husband is a coach. And, while that makes us particularly relevant to coaching families and organizations like the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, we have also presented at several churches. We know what it means to have a marriage under pressure, to actively work on the quality of our marriage and communication, and I have the training/theory/education undergirding what we share.

  4. We are funny, apparently. I don’t necessarily get why we are funny but, I will tell you that people laugh quite a bit at our events. I’m fairly sure they are laughing with us. Maybe sometimes they are laughing at us. No matter, you can rest assured that when we speak we come with humility, ridiculous personal examples of marriage mishaps, and in-the-moment pivots for situations like that one time when I busted myself in the teeth with a microphone and the other time I fell off the stage (true stories).

  5. We aren’t afraid of the awkward stuff. We talk about struggles, we talk about arguments and apologies, we talk about sex, and in faith-based spaces, we even do a little chitty-chat-chat about the concept of submission without anyone in the room imploding. We answer questions in real-time and hope no one films it for YouTube. Marriage is sacred and has sacred hard questions. We always hope to hold space for that.

So, there you go people. I have self-promoted myself and my hubby because our 2023 calendar is filling up and, as awkward as it is to talk about ourselves, we really do love to love on couples. If you are interested in chatting with us about coming to your town, church, or organization for a night, overnight, or weekend, we’d love to hear from you. Click here for the link to our speaking info/contact info.

PS – If you are interested in what I speak about on my own (i.e. faith, mental health, the intersection between the two, suicide prevention, educator burnout prevention, etc.) tune right back in here next Thursday. The cows and I will be back with more information.

Do We Respond to Mistakes with Compassion?

I get a big kick out of noticing something new-to-me in the Bible. And, it really makes me smile when it comes out of something I’ve heard, read, or even seen depicted countless times. This phenomenon of the “living word” (Heb. 4:12) is both fascinating and a great encouragement to keep reading and studying because you never know when something is going to take on a new light.

To begin, let’s check out this familiar story:

Then Jesus told them this parable: “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.” ~ Luke 15:3-7 (NIV)

The ninety-nine. It’s a story many of us are familiar with. The whole idea that Jesus would take off into the wilderness to recover that one lost sheep is something that has comforted generations of Christians who were all at some point “the one.” However, while the story of Jesus going after the sheep is fantastic, it wasn’t until now that I noticed the way He chose to bring the sheep back…

…joyfully on His shoulders.

  • Not yelling at the sheep for wandering off.
  • Not forcing the sheep to walk as penance.
  • Not mentally whipping her for being so stupid.
  • Not with sarcasm as an escort.
  • Not with harsh consequences so “maybe she’d learn her lesson.”
  • Not withdrawing His affection.

…joyfully on His shoulders.

Anne Rulo Do We Respond to Mistakes with Compassion

I don’t know how this strikes you today. One obvious application is to consider our attitude toward others who have wandered. Those for whom perhaps we’ve gone out of our way in terms of effort, energy, or resources to try to bring them back to safety. Like maybe your kid, maybe a sibling, maybe a friend, maybe…whomever.

But, in addition to applying Jesus’s example of grace and mercy for others, I want you to consider one other person as well.


Without a shadow of a doubt, I know this is being read by people who readily dole out grace and mercy to others in spades. But to yourself? That’s harder.

  • Because we get so mad at ourselves for wandering off again.
  • Or treat ourselves poorly to “make up” for yet another mistake.
  • Let our minds pile up with critical words.
  • Mock ourselves with internal sarcasm.
  • Or withdraw hope and affection because, somehow, we still think it’s our job to fix ourselves.

My dear fellow human, may this bring you freedom today. In Jesus’s own words, He told us His wandering sheep are not only valuable enough to chase after but precious enough to carry “joyfully on His shoulders.” You are no more meant to save yourself now than the first day He carried you home.

No matter what may be struggling with, I hope it is from atop His broad, capable shoulders. It’s the only way we are ever supposed to get there.

Enjoy the ride and feel His joy.

Anne writes and speaks regularly about living out authentic faith with compassion. Check out more writing in her blog or her speaking here.

Photo by Külli Kittus on Unsplash, used with permission

Start Slowly

Writing over at The Glorious Table about the value of starting slowly when it comes to new habits or difficult environments. Also, truly enjoyed this opportunity to share one of my all-time favorite memories with my Mom. Read on for a preview below or link to the full post here.

When I was fifteen years old, I received a rather unconventional—not to mention memorable—driving lesson from my mom. That winter, we’d had a stretch of bad weather, and everything was covered in snow and ice. But after the main roads were cleared, Mom drove me up to our local high school parking lot. Because I went to a really big high school, the parking lot was also really big. Even so, for a fifteen-year-old who had only been driving on a permit for a few months, it still seemed a bit intimidating.

Once we arrived, she stopped somewhere in the middle, and we crunched our way around the car to switch seats. Once I was in the driver’s seat, she told me I was going to spend some time in this environment to learn how to drive safely in winter weather.

Um, OK, Mom. Let’s be reckless on purpose. What could possibly happen?

Anne Rulo Start Slowly The Glorious Table

Well, as much as it may seem like I am building up to some disastrous scene, this whole adventure was an absolute blast for me and a big parenting victory for Mom. I didn’t crash into any of the light poles, the outer walls of my high school remained unscathed, and not a single scratch or dent ended up on the vehicle. Instead, what I gained were memories of laughing and hollering with her as she taught me how to get a donut started and how to straighten it out, how to build up enough speed to skid and then allow the car to slow down without slamming on the brakes, and how to do a “slick check” after starting, rather than assuming I knew what the conditions would be. I took away valuable information from that one unconventional day of training with my mom.

I share all of this to say that while a donut or skid is certainly possible while driving in the snow, one of the most important lessons I learned that day was not about stopping. It was about starting. It’s the awareness that getting going is sometimes the hardest part when conditions are difficult. And while this is true of cars, it can also be true of people. The way we start can determine how, or even if, we get going at all.

Why Starting Slowly Is Sometimes the Best Way Forward

In this first part of the year, so many of us put our minds (and efforts) toward starting anew. Maybe it’s a health goal or a financial one. Maybe we’ve started a new reading habit or prayer routine. Regardless, whatever you’ve started, you may have found that when you’re making a difficult change, starting out quickly doesn’t seem to be getting you anywhere. Instead, you just feel like you’re spinning your wheels. What gives?

I don’t mean to over-spiritualize the beginnings of change. And yet, so many of the difficult changes God brought about in Scripture were not instant. They were gradual. They were realized after years of people waiting and being faithful. And, maybe, the most important realization is that this was purposeful. God did not ignore the pleas of his people to “hurry up” because he’s mean, busy, or dismissive. He allows things to take time, sometimes a long time, because he knows it’s in the waiting, in the patience, in the perseverance, that we truly grow.

To finish the full post link here.

One Word 2023

I know it’s kinda’ trendy but no matter, I’ve been intentionally picking a “one word” for a few years now. In truth, I really enjoy the process on the front end. And, I also enjoy seeing how it plays out on the back end. Here’s how it’s gone so far:

(2019) Kindness. I believe this was my first one. And, I think I chose it because my kids were 7 and 4, kinda’ driving me bonkers.

(2020) Enjoy. The irony of seeing this printed on my desk throughout the pandemic was obvious. Also, it fit. I don’t know if ever before or ever since we will have the chance to pause and enjoy one another as we did that year.

(2021) I have no idea. I’m telling you this because I’m continuing to work on perfectionism and it is humbling that I can’t remember. We moved. We survived. I’m counting that as a win.

(2022) Simplify. I’ve learned that picking a “one word” and applying it takes practice, just like anything else. Last year was the first time I actually took action steps, intentionally “simplifying” what I gave my energy to and how many things I allowed myself to consider “doable” in a day. It was wonderful and effective. That is until I forgot for a bit this fall and overbooked myself. Oh well, I’m glad for the guidance at least most of the year.

Anne Rulo One Word 2023

So, now for 2023. I’m often amused by this process of discernment. To start, I try to buckle down, pray, concentrate, etc. Sometimes this yields fruit. Sometimes, nothing. This year, it was definitely nothing. So, I gave up for a while. When I tried again, it just felt like an echo chamber of last year’s “simplify”, as though I were reading a mental thesaurus. So, I gave up again. I share this to emphasize this is not always a quick process.

Finally, the other day, I heard a phrase that I know wasn’t me because I definitely thought the “word” would be far more sophisticated. Instead, this little phrase came through loud and clear, “Chill out.”

Chill out. How about that? But, as soon as I heard it, I knew it made sense. I thought a bit longer, and now, it’s narrowed down all the way.

For 2023, my one word is “free.” Ahhh.

The reason I say this fits is that, after years of change, it seems our family is hopefully in a place we will stay for a while. But, the years leading up to this were hard for this typically unanxious and confident gal, leaving me more internally skittish than I used to be. I’ve prayed to be “free” of this more times than I can count. To that end, this year’s word feels less like my own declaration and more like a gift. One I am so very happy to receive.

Of course, I can’t predict how “free” will play out. Goodness knows, I learned that lesson when “enjoy” came along. But, I do know that it feels like love and permission from God to “chill out.” There really are so few things that are worth getting worked up about. Life is often so much more simple than we make it out to be. And, we really can be free of so many things that rent space in our heads, try to weigh us down, and keep us afraid.

Free. I love it. In fact, I’ve gone ahead and started using it and I’m really enjoying it.

For “where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” 2 Cor. 3:17

Blessings to you all in 2023.

One of the Best Gifts I Can Give My Children is Other People

The other day I found myself watching a bunch of children take part in a celebratory dance party. There were balloons, glow sticks, loud, crazy music, and loud, crazy children. Because that’s what kids are supposed to do sometimes. Be loud and silly. And, as you can see from this failed attempt to get a still shot of my daughter, she was having the time of her life.

So, how did I find myself at a loud, crazy dance party with tiny humans? Well, I’ll tell you.

Anne Rulo One of the Best Gifts I Give My Children is Other People

Last summer, I did a quick search for “local children’s theater.” It quickly turned up Itsy Bitsy Broadway, a local theater program for “young performers and young audiences.” Sign-ups for the fall production of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe were open. As I had been looking for an outlet for my creative, free-spirited, theatrical daughter, I signed her up immediately. We were both pretty excited.

Our first time at the theater was the fall open house. There were snacks and drinks, plenty of stuff to play with, and memorabilia from past productions. After a few minutes, the director entered the room. It took me about 2.5 seconds to recognize I had made exactly the right choice.

This gal was all things I am not. She came in exactly as you might think a theater-loving person would. Loud, demonstrative, and speaking with great expression in a slightly British accent. She welcomed us and then led the kids off for a tour. I followed behind quietly.

Quickly, they all disappeared backstage. I could hear them going through the green room, dressing rooms, and then walking behind the permanent set. As the director still had her microphone on, I heard her say something about going through an on-stage door to get out. Then there was some rattling, a little laughter, and the director with fantastic fake distress, “Oh no! The door is locked. Yell for help! Yell for help with drama!”

I smiled.

I’ve never encouraged my kids to do anything “with drama.” But, that’s exactly what my expressive, creative daughter needs sometimes.

Other People Are Essential to Our Children’s Development

You know, when my kids were younger, being around women like this made me question things. As an introverted, less “playful” Mama, I wondered if I was not “enough” somehow. I would see the way other Moms enjoyed their kids that seemed so different from my own experience. I mean, aren’t Moms of small kids supposed to really like kids? I liked mine, but I was far from the stereotypical “kid person.” Truth be told, I still am.

Years later, that old question of my “enoughness” still tries to pop up sometimes. But, now, it gets batted down by the truth of what I’ve experienced as I’ve embraced the gift of other people in my children’s lives. Instead of feeling inadequate, I am now grateful for the Moms who have my daughter over, sending her home loaded down with crafts. Instead of feeling like a stick in the mud, I love to watch my kids with their teachers and coaches as they play, making silly voices and faces. And, instead of thinking I have little purpose sitting quietly in the back of a children’s theater dance party, I am intentionally creating a mental reel of images, watching my daughter dance her heart out with her new friends.

To my fellow Mamas who sometimes fall prey to this same question, “Should I be everything my kid needs?” Our answer should be a firm and confident, “No.” The talents and gifts of those around us are not a threat to our value. Rather, they are simply additional lights, brightening the runway our children are traveling before someday, they take off. Frankly, I want every one of them lit so they can see best where to go.

That day in the theater, when my daughter finally tired from all the dancing, she knew exactly where to find me. In the back, sitting quietly, ready to welcome her when she was ready. She climbed in my lap, sighed, and said, “Mom, this was so much fun.”

I am so grateful, sweetheart. Please go, spread your big creative wings, I’ll be right here watching.

PS – In this same vein, here is a poem I wrote years ago. Thanks to all those in the village helping raise my kiddos. I am grateful for you.

For more poetry from Anne link here.

Anne speaks and writes about motherhood often. For more on her speaking link here.