Joy O'Neal

Finding Your Rest

By Joy O’Neal

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Summer, summer, summertime…the song I’m sure every teacher is singing right now. I surely am! It’s summer! Us moms have a love-hate relationship with summer, don’t we? If your children aren’t school-age yet, then it’s just a warmer part of the year with more opportunities to play in the sun, but if they are school-age, then your entire world just changed for the next twelve weeks into beautiful chaos. The game of tug-of-war between relaxing vs. go has already begun. For me, summer has already whispered a beautiful soul lesson of restoring peace and surrendering to God’s presence inside of motherhood.

The school year ended, and the excitement for a much-needed break was rising throughout my home, but I continually heard the shout of one word, STOP! I knew where it was coming from. I knew why this four-letter word was all I could hear. I knew that my soul was weary, but I resented the wrestling match that would follow. A collision I’ve felt many times as an ambivert. I was empty. I sat the kids down and explained to them that this summer, our theme was rest. I told them other than a few local attractions we wouldn’t be doing much. I was extremely surprised when each one met me precisely where I was. It was clear. We all needed rest.

Cue wrestling match. Each morning I would sit and attempt to usher in the silence. Only a few days passed, and my mind battled between the thoughts of how many tasks I could complete this summer and resting. I would enter my office and see all the lesson plans and books and for a moment contemplate diving into the space. Again, STOP! I knew I needed to go the extra mile. I began to pack up my office and remove everything that called me into teacher brain. I searched Facebook Marketplace for an oversized chair. Once I cleared out my office and found my chair, the word shifted from STOP to SIT. I don’t know about you, but as a mom sitting is hard! Doesn’t it seem like once our bottoms hit a chair our children have an inner alarm system? Then the most beautiful thing happened—it rained! And I love the rain. Growing up in South Carolina afternoon summer rainstorms were a daily occurrence. Each evening it rained, and each evening I would sit.

Once I started to get the hang of sitting the word quickly switched to SEARCH! This beautiful rest and peace that was being restored caused me to search for the deeper why behind its previous exit from my life. How did Jesus manage to stop when He was being pulled? How did He choose to sit when He was sent to this world to spread a message? As I searched through Scripture, I found beautiful similarity between the life of Jesus and the cry of my heart. Verse upon verse, it was clear. Even Jesus knew He needed to slip away. Scripture refers to these places as a Solitary place (Mark 1:35), Lonely place (Luke 5:16), Quiet place (Mark 6:32), and Certain place (Luke 11:1). Jesus knew the importance of having a spot.

How as mothers and professionals do we maintain a quiet spot? How do we bring this certain place into the school year? How do we acquire time of solitude amid so much activity? We can’t. We can’t until we let go of the fairytale quiet place we’ve mentally created and replaced it with Susanna Wesley’s prayer apron.

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Susanne Wesley was the mother of John and Charles Wesley. These two men grew up to lead millions to Christ. Now there’s a mom goal! John and Charles weren’t her only children, though. Susanne had 19 children, but only ten lived through infancy. Studying her life feels a bit like a chapter out of Job. Her marriage was in constant conflict; one of her children was crippled, and another couldn’t speak until they were six. Susanne’s husband couldn’t manage finances and provoked the anger of his congregation, which lead to multiple attacks on their home and livelihood. Finding time to stop, sit, and search would seem impossible in Susanne’s life. When Susanne was young, she made a vow with God that she would never spend more time in entertainment or leisure than she did in prayer with Him. A house with ten kids doesn’t seem like a setting for a quiet place, but Susanne created her own spot by telling her children that when they saw her with her apron over her head, they were not to bother her. Two hours a day, Susanne would meet with God in her apron tent and pray.

Just like Susanne, we have to be creative with creating our places of solitude and quiet. Maybe it’s the car ride to daycare? Maybe it’s waking up 20 minutes before the house gets busy? Maybe it’s folding the towels or creating a ‘Do Not Disturb’ apron moment of our own? One of my favorite songs right now is “You Are My Hiding Place” by Selah and each time I hear this song I am reassured that it’s in our moment with God when we are restored. However this practice of stopping, sitting, and searching looks for you, I am convinced that when our hiding place is in Him, then our peace can be anywhere. Cheers to summer!


Looking Up

By Joy O’Neal

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Happy first week of Spring! The irony of this publication and its content falling on the first week of Spring makes my heart sing. If you are like me, then your heart is desperate for a seasonal change. This beach bums heart currently feels semi stuck in an eternal Narnia over here in Colorado Springs. Although true in my physical surroundings I am also currently experiencing a bit of a spiritual Narnia of stagnant faith. So today, I’d like to take a moment to share with you on the topic of looking up.

As a planner, I am the queen of wanting a glimpse at God’s bigger picture. According to StrenthFinders, I am an activator, which means getting things going is my specialty. What’s next? and What are we waiting on? are just a few of the questions I battle with daily.  Although great qualities in certain arenas, spiritually these questions can cause frustration.  Even as my flesh continually battles for the reigns my God brings gentle reminders inside of the mundane that beckon me to release my grip and once again look up to Him.

Many years ago, while helping facilitate a weekend beach retreat for women, I shared about an eye opening practice that transformed my heart around looking up. During this retreat I had a very short speaking opportunity so I asked the women to engage in an experiment throughout the day. Their instructions were simple! Each time they entered a new establishment they were to look up. For me, this experiment was shocking! I realized that out of almost every establishment that I frequently visited I had NEVER seen the ceiling. My Spirit shifted around this simple practice and once again a deep impression by the One who loves us most was written on the walls of my heart. Just as I had experienced, many of the women came to me with similar shock realizing they had in fact never looked up inside of these various establishments that they had visited more times than they could count. 

If you are like me and currently in a stagnant season then you too have possibly forgotten the power that hides inside of simply shifting our eyes upward. As moms are days require us to repeatedly keep our eyes directly on each passing step. Making sure our little ones don’t fall down the stairs, the piling laundry gets washed, that project gets done and the biggest one of all--WHAT’S FOR DINNER (which I fully think should be a forbidden question). They cause us to keep a fixed focus.

Aside from writing and playing mom to my tribe I am also a preschool teacher to the worlds cutest class. Each week my partner teachers and I rotate on teaching Bible to the precious souls we are blessed with. This week was my turn to lead chapel and by no coincidence the Bible story just happens to be my most favorite of all! Doesn’t our God love us so well?

John 3: Jesus Teaches Nicodemus.

Sitting low to the floor with twenty something preschoolers looking up at me, I was reminded how the story of Nicodemus became my favorite. As I shared with you earlier, I am full of questions. I love learning and will be the first to raise my hand. During a hard season in my life I was plagued with questions. Because of my personal pain, I questioned everything. Why did this happen? God, where are You? How did I miss the mark? Did I hear You wrong? These are just a few of the questions I asked daily.  

This is when Nicodemus and I became best friends. I found Nicodemus tiptoeing through the dark night towards Jesus with his questions. I know theologically Nicodemus was keeping quiet and unseen by coming to Jesus in the night but I like to also believe that he couldn’t sleep without getting his questions answered. Just as the answers Jesus gave Nicodemus that night, I too have wrestled with the confusing answers I’ve received during each season of questioning.

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Only when I take my eyes off each step and shift them upward do I start to see the true answer. I can’t image the level of confusion Nicodemus felt as Jesus told him about rebirth. For Nicodemus, the words of Jesus must have seemed like a sci-fi movie scene. Reading through the text of John 3 I wondered how Nicodemus must’ve felt when he heard that Jesus had been crucified. Possibly Nicodemus felt the same way we do when we feel a dream or promise that God has given us has died.  I imagine Nicodemus full of questions again. But where we find Nicodemus next in scripture is the exact reason I share this story with you.

John 19:38-42: The Burial of Jesus

Nicodemus accompanied Joseph of Arimathea to prepare and bury the body of Jesus. I have to believe that Nicodemus was once again full of questions as he wrapped and anointed the lifeless flesh of Jesus. What was right in front of him didn’t look like eternal life. It didn’t look like the answers Jesus’ had previously given him. Nicodemus’ fixed focus looked like death. Oh, but if Nicodemus could’ve looked up into the heavens and seen the war that was being won for eternity in those exact moments!

Mamas, I know--BELIEVE me, I KNOW--that each day requires us to keep a fixed focus on the task ahead, but can I challenge you to look up? There is a battle being won over your dreams and family too! Trust Him with your questions and trust Him in His answers. And while you are at it, see if you’ve ever noticed the ceiling in Target!


Wrestling With Your Identity

By Joy O’Neal

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I know the normal thing in this season is to write about the beauty of Christmas and the birth of our Savior but for a moment I would like to press pause. I want to discuss a topic that has been a recurring wrestle in my motherhood journey. I’m talking about identity. Throughout the many waves and seasons of motherhood, I continually find myself asking questions around true identity. When did it become such a big deal? Why does my flesh hunger for it? Why do I continue to search for it?

All these questions came flooding in while sitting on the porch with my dad on a warm South Carolina night. Casually, my dad asked, “What’s on your heart; what’s God been saying to you?” Without hesitation, the words poured out. “Dad, I am so confused by this obsession both for myself and those around me over identity.” You see moms, it felt as though everywhere I turned I was surrounded with the concerns of what others thought, who they said I was and how I appeared to be. Also, during this season of my life, it seemed like I needed to prove worthiness. Everywhere I looked, identity appeared to be lost. The question of HOW are you was replaced with WHO are you.

There is no other place where my personal identity has felt attacked more than in motherhood. As mothers, we want so deeply to get it right and since we’ve never held the title of mom until we hold our first child, it sparks a season of seeking. We research, question and, in true times of desperation, we Google. In the midst of this search, I believe there can be a dangerous shift that takes place. This shift somehow creeps in through thoughts of doubt and before we know it we are doing it as Sally does and how Jamie does and … well, the unique identity that was given to us and ONLY us is lost. Hence the start of a journey to lost identity.

Reeling over these thoughts I began to blame it on social media and the way our society lives a life on display, then my dad stopped me. What he said next gave me a revelation I’ll never forget around identity. He said, “Joy, this is no new thing! Go to Genesis. What is the first thing God said after the lies of doubt—when the first identity theft took place?”

I found it in Genesis 3:11; the first time identity was stolen. Genesis 3:11 “Who told you that…” Again my dad explained scripture in a way that comes straight from the Holy Spirit. I saw it, felt it and understood. The enemy inserted doubt to the God-given identity of Adam and Eve which caused a desire to cover themselves. They began to glean from the wrong source.

My soul made the connection in an instant and through the lens of grace, I began to see the search for significance for exactly what it was. The moms around me and myself were simply covering ourselves with “the perfect way” because somewhere along the line we started to listen to the wrong source.

After this conversation with my dad, I went on a journey. I asked God the deeper questions of my heart. How do I avoid the trap of lost identity? How do I silence the voices of doubt? How do I quiet pride and the desire to be seen and heard? And the biggest question, if my identity is in You then how do I see myself as You do?

The answers to these questions brought confusion at first because it was two names that rose to the surface of my quest. Mary and Rahab. I had to laugh! I wasn’t sure how the Virgin Mary and the prostitute Rahab were going to come together but I was willing to dive into scripture and find out. I found two very different women living very different lives with very different identities but somehow uttering the exact same sentence.

The first proclamation is in Joshua when the two spies speak with Rahab about the plans of attack on her city. Joshua 2:21,

‘Let it be as you say.’

The second is in Luke after the angel appears to Mary and tells her she will be the mother of Jesus. Luke 1:38,

I am willing to be used of the Lord. Let it happen to me as you have said.

If the Virgin Mary and the prostitute Rahab could arrive at the same mindset then possibly there is something here for us too.

Musing over the previous conversation with my dad on the topic of identity and this new parallel it was beginning to come together. God had already declared Adam and Eve’s true identity. They had no knowledge of nakedness until they listened to the words of doubt. Their desire to cover came directly from listening and believing the voice of confusion. Their source was wrong. Oppositely, Mary and Rahab were able to boldly declare, “Let it be as you say” simply because they listened and believed the right source.

As moms, I’m positive our identity will continue to be challenged. Reminding ourselves to remain confident in what scripture says about us is the strongest weapon in fighting against the identity crisis that seems to meet us at each new season. Just as God did in the garden, can I challenge you to ask yourself the question, “who told me that?” When you feel the urge to cover with accomplishments, credentials, degrees and labels, pause and remember who God says you are. And just like Mary and Rahab, when truth speaks be women that are ready to boldly declare, Let it be as you say!

Merry Christmas mamas!


Giving Grace to the Gap of Uncontrollable Circumstances

By Joy O’Neal

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Mamas, we have mastered the art of giving. We give our time, energy and body to our family. There is one person we often forget though and that’s the beautiful yet tired face that stares us back in the mirror each morning. Today, lets talk about giving ourselves something and I’m not talking about getting your nails done, getting a massage or scheduling a much needed night out; although I am a lover of all these things. I am talking about giving yourself grace! Grace to the gap of uncontrollable circumstances.

As mothers, grace is often forgotten amidst the sleepless nights, dirty diapers, mounds of homework, sibling meltdowns, toddler tantrums and empty milk jug corners, can I get an amen? Moms often construct the perfect picture of the Joanna Gaines meets Mrs. Walton moments and find ourselves confused on how they ended up looking more like Rosanne meets Peggy Bundy!

I remember when my two oldest were under the age of three, I painted a perfect picture for Mother’s Day. Sunday after church my husband, kids and I would have a perfect picnic on the beach.  I started prepping the food on Saturday, put all the beach toys and umbrella in the car. It was going to go off without a hitch! I would sit on the sand, eat my grapes and look at my cute little babies and sweet husband and feel so celebrated. When church was over my husband mentioned that a storm was coming. Oh, No! Not on my perfect day! I told him it would be fine and we should keep things as planned. When we arrived at the beach the wind picked up and again my husband suggested that maybe going out for some fresh seafood was the better plan. Again, I blew off his suggestion and recommended that sitting in the car a few minutes was all we needed. The storm stayed! Finally, I decided that maybe the wind wouldn’t be so bad once we walked over the dunes and closer to the water. My husband started to gather all of the wonderful things I packed for my perfect day. One thing that’s dangerous about preparing for an entire day is it allows an entire day worth of “maybe we should bring ______?” thoughts! I can still see my husband walking through the thick sand carrying a blanket, two chairs, a bag full of toys and ALL while pulling a giant cooler full of food. Once we got onto the beach and set everything up our children began to scream because the wind blew the sand like tiny pellets from Hell all over them and our food. We packed everything up, trekked back to the car and my Mother’s Day was a complete fail.

My plans were shot! The uncontrollable circumstances where there but where was the grace? Nothing had gone as planned and my day was wrecked!

Now it’s a funny memory but what about the mom moments that aren’t so funny? The ones that keep us up at night—the ones we replay over and over, fishing for how we could change the outcome?

When my youngest was sick for the first time (that she could remember) she laid on the floor and rolled back and forth moaning, “UGH, I didn’t see this day coming!” As to say, had I known I’d been better prepared? Isn’t that all of us? Life throws us curveballs and instead of giving grace to the gap of uncontrollable circumstances we force the picnic against the storm or roll around on the floor wishing we’d known it was coming so we could be better prepared.

I am so thankful that in spite of ourselves we have a God that weathers all storms and DOES hold each day in His loving hands.  

Over the last year the phase “Give grace to the gap” has become a bit of a personal tagline. God continually places me inside beautiful collisions that teach me the importance of giving grace to the gap and allowing provision to catch up to the promises He’s spoken over my life.

As a pastors daughter, growing up in church I knew the ending to every story. I knew Rehab and her family were spared, Daniel left untouched, the grave left empty and Jonah’s story didn’t end in the belly of a fish. These spoiler alert moments created a desensitized revelation that clouded an overwhelming truth!  Each one of these people had zero clue around their future while they were living in the gap yet their words of faith send my soul swimming in the goodness of God and the beauty of living as a true grace giver inside of the gap of uncontrollable circumstances.

Particularly Jonahs Prayer in Jonah 2:1-9, I listen as Jonah cries out in the depths with praise and certainty that his God will rescue and redeem him. Now that’s a grace giver! The bold declaration of an almost certain faith that his God is already at work in delivering him and in spite of it all he would praise the God he loved so well.

So as moms, what does giving grace to the gap of uncontrollable circumstances look like?

We all have patterns of fighting uncontrollable circumstances. For me, these battles always had signs of my combative approach that were undeniably byproducts of my lack of trust and grace giving.

A life lived without giving grace to ourselves looks a lot like worry, doubt, frustration and weariness. So what does giving grace to the gaps look like?  While looking back during times when I was able to give grace to the gap I found some familiar actions that I know are responsible for a positive outcome. Something I now call the 4S approach: Speak, Seek, Sing and Stand.

Thumbing through my journal I can see how I allowed women of faith to speak into my life.  I also found that I had a hunger to seek counsel.  Additionally, there was a pattern of praise, personal laments to a God who hears my cry. Finally, I stood!  I boldly declared His promise over my life and chose to speak the God breath truth into the gap.

I’ve only been in the mom game for 10 years now but I’d much rather stand inside the 4S approach then experience worry, doubt, frustration and weariness.

As moms, I am certain that we will continue to be plagued with uncontrollable circumstances but can I challenge you today to give grace to the gap? Our God is good all the time! He is drawing near, coming as close as a breath, standing shoulder to shoulder and declaring that we are His and He is ours. No weapon of mind, body or spirit formed against us shall prosper. We’ve already been given every ounce of today’s grace, today’s mercies and today’s spiritual bread needed to be courageous and victorious!

Cheers moms! You’ve got this!