A Strong Start


January is a hard month. There are new routines and rules. Special diets and detoxes. Lofty plans and new purpose.

There is this new version of yourself, but you’re not quite sure you like her. There is small progress, but nothing measurable. You know things will get easier, but not before they get much harder.

I’ll say it again: January is a hard month.

I know all too well. Too many of my years have had hard beginnings. Not any more.

Now, I’m at a softer stage of life. I find myself searching high and low for shoes with the softest soles. I can wait for books to come out in their soft covers, and am willing to pay extra for softer, gentler soap.

I can no longer handle hard liquor or hard rock. It’s been a long time since I’ve been hard-core or driven a hard bargain about anything.

Don’t get me wrong, I have passions. I do my work well, exercise regularly, and eat healthy (enough), but I’m done believing that life has to be so hard.


I love reading these words:  “easy to mold” “having a pleasing quality” “the soft glow”

Don’t they sound lovely on these hard, winter days?

Every January, I used to develop a case of Martha Syndrome. You know Martha, right? She learned a hard lesson when she tried to impress Jesus and His friends with a dinner party to die for. She pressed hard and even threw her sister, Mary, under the bus for sitting with Jesus when there was still work to do.

Jesus softened Martha with two simple statements: “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” Luke 41b-42

With tough cases like Martha and me, Jesus speaks our name and calls us to a softer, quieter place. To lighten our load. To keep us from slaving away. To save our lives.

lkocqty1inq-stephen-ellisThis body of mine would send the twenty-five year old Me into overdrive. Fueled with fear, she would demand nothing less than a washboard waist and all things of steel. That Me was a nice person, and she sure was cute, but I’m glad she’s gone.

The thirty year old Me would be appalled at my schedule. She would quickly fill my blank spaces with more chores, more ministry, and more up and at ‘em. Looking back, she sure got a lot done, but she was such a joysuck.

When did we start thinking we have to be so hard on ourselves?

“…you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary.”

Can I tell you a secret? I actually like my soft. Oh, sure – if I could wave a magic wand and make myself more productive and a perfect 10, I’d wave like crazy. But in reality, this “little extra” around my middle and the blank lines in my calendar represent a shift in my life, and I’m quite proud.

To be clear, I’m not proud about my middle or my schedule because they are soft. I’m proud because I’m happy with them – even though they’re not hard and tight. To me, learning to like softer things is evidence I’ve finally become strong.

When my husband reaches out under the covers, he wraps gentle arms around my softness. We push away hard words and tough days and settle into the sunken, broken-down center of our twenty-five year-old marriage to love each other. That’s strength.

It’s when I look more at who’s reflected in the eyes of the people who love me, than at the flaws I see in a mirror. It’s finally knowing a mirror is just a cold, hard piece of glass with no voice, no power, and no life to give.

Strength is about choosing to be a soft-hearted mom instead of a hard-driving machine. It’s knowing that hard deadlines kill lifelines, and if we don’t soften up, we’ll miss Jesus for all of the dinner plans.

These are hard, January days when the world tell us to do better, work harder, and get that hard body.

Of course, make changes to be healthier this year. Yes, use these next 365 days wisely. But allow yourself a softer, gentler, more sustainable pace.

And please don’t live another day with a heart that’s too hard to love yourself or your slow-moving sister. Don’t waste one more minute demanding straight lines or flat abs.

Because the longer you drive a hard line, turning becomes almost impossible.

And isn’t life so much about turning?

Thankfully, Martha turned toward Jesus and listened. Praise God I did too. So can you.

Turn to receive the Power to change and grow.

Turn to the Wisdom that sheds the weight of the world.

Turn to the One who is calling you away from all of the hard living, and find rest.

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30

Holly Barrett

twig photo: Stephen Ellis / bench photo: Saeed Mhmdi

20 thoughts on “A Strong Start

  1. Elizabeth January 7, 2017 / 9:51 am

    Your recent blogs have played a large role in leading me to the soft place that I have been searching for in order to start my year well. Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Mary Geisen January 9, 2017 / 3:23 pm

    What a delight to read these words today! I think this post goes beautifully with mine about beginning. I love that I am in the stage of life where softer is better and more in sync with who I am. You describe perfectly how we don’t need to fill up our schedules and that choosing more if a Mary lifestyle is exactly what God is calling us to. Thank you for these soothing words!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Karen Brown January 9, 2017 / 3:59 pm

      Mary – Thanks so much for this encouragement. Here’s to the softer stage of life! 🙂


  3. Michele Morin January 10, 2017 / 5:22 am

    The smile lines around my mouth are very visible right now, Karen, as I read words that make me sigh and say, “Amen.”

    Liked by 1 person

    • Karen Brown January 10, 2017 / 5:23 am

      Michele – So glad this made you smile. 🙂 Thanks so much for stopping by to leave some encouragement. Blessings –

      Liked by 1 person

  4. betsydecruz January 10, 2017 / 7:02 am

    Oh Karen. You’re speaking life into me today. I was just thinking how this January, I haven’t made a huge effort to make goals yet, and now you’re helping me see why. (I think February is my new January anyway.) I’m finding value right now in a bit more downtime. Time with my young adult kids, family, etc. The soft life.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Joanne Viola (@JViola79) January 10, 2017 / 7:08 am

    Karen, loved this post. It is hard to learn to embrace the “softer” us and yet, our God gently and softly calls us to do so. Thank you for this encouragement today!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Karen Brown January 10, 2017 / 8:54 am

      I appreciate you stopping by, Joanne! Thanks so much.


  6. Beth January 10, 2017 / 8:13 am

    This is a breath of fresh air! I am slowly becoming more comfortable and accepting of my softer self – thanks for pointing out all it’s glory!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Karen Brown January 10, 2017 / 8:55 am

      Me too, Beth. Thanks so much for your encouragement.


  7. Jeanne Takenaka January 10, 2017 / 3:41 pm

    Karen, such a beautiful post! I call it learning to give myself grace. It’s only as I give myself grace that I can live with that softness in my countenance, my words, and my actions. Perfection doesn’t need/shouldn’t be our standard. I love how you compared your 25 year old and 30 year old self with your current self. God’s done a lot of changing in me too.

    And this: “It’s knowing that hard deadlines kill lifelines, ” YES. I have to remember this with my very random, very distractible boy. He needs deadlines, but he needs grace too. Learning which to give when has been my challenge lately. 🙂 Thanks for giving me good things to ponder.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Karen Brown January 11, 2017 / 5:41 am

      Yes- this season is about accepting and even enjoying the imperfections. Thanks so much for stopping by, Jeanne!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Lesley January 10, 2017 / 4:07 pm

    Thanks for sharing these reflections. It is too easy to push ourselves too hard and feel like we have to be doing something all the time. Thank you for the reminder of the importance of rest and taking a slower pace sometimes.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Bev @ Walking Well With God January 10, 2017 / 7:06 pm

    I remember when I was still teaching preschool…one of my preschoolers who always liked to lean up against me ….told me that she liked that my tummy was soft and squishy. I knew this was a compliment from this sweet child, but Ugh!! the reality. Like you, I am learning to like the softer, less ridged and driven parts of myself. Maybe this is God’s plan and lesson to us as we grow older and wiser in Him. So glad I popped in for this post!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Karen Brown January 11, 2017 / 5:57 am

      Yes- I think it’s part of gaining eternal perspective and living out God’s grace – to ourselves and others. So grateful to reconnect with you. Thanks so much for stopping by!


  10. Tracey January 15, 2017 / 2:38 pm

    Thanks for reminding me of the value of a “soft” life. I believe I am learning to slow down, hopefully learning to lean more into Christ for my strength, and valuing each day spent with my family as I see my children growing and changing so quickly in these teenage years.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Karen Brown January 15, 2017 / 3:53 pm

      Tracy – yes, enjoy those teens (my favorite phase, for sure). And thanks so much for taking the time to read and comment!


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