5.12.2015

Sometimes, I Read Things

Last fall, I realized that if I didn't change certain habits, Kyle was going to walk in one day and find me mindlessly staring at a Daniel The Tiger episode while my brain, in liquid form, was puddled about my feet.

In an attempt to keep that from happening, I have been reading more this semester. I never had a specific goal in mind, but with the general guidelines to avoid novels and pick up a book every once in awhile that was outside of my normal interests.

Not because I think novels are evil or beneath me, but because they usually draw me into a hole where I eat, sleep, bathe, and drink as little as possible until I'm finished with them. Since I am largely responsible for the existence of an almost three and one year old, I figured this was slightly unwise.

Here are the books I've read and my very intelligent & cultured opinions of them:


Jesus Feminist // Sarah Bessey

Several years ago, this would have been my favorite book in the entire world. I imagine I would have waved it underneath everyone's noses and demanded they read it so it could change their lives too.

It may have helped me avoid a few unnecessary detours on my "Jesus and The Church and Women" journey. Bessey does an amazing job of approaching this topic with a lot of grace and an, "Everyone just calm the heck down and let's have a conversation about this, shall we?" mentality. I wish I could have read it when my soul felt a little dry and brittle from going full DaVinci Code on Scripture, trying to squeeze hidden meanings out of the Greek and scrape absolutes from verses that bless us all, just don't seem to have it.

All that being said, I didn't enjoy this book as much as I wanted. I felt lost, at times. In the back of my mind I kept thinking, "Yes... that's all so good, but what's the point of saying all of this, again?"

In this season, I've come to a place in my own journey of wanting more practical, hands-on, tangible things to chew on. This book, at least for me, didn't really provide that. Analogy time? It felt a little bit like a cup of hot tea with lemon when what I wanted was a protein shake.

Fierce Convictions // Karen Swallow Prior

First, I love biographies. Some people don't, I get it.

Second, I love history. Some people don't, I get it.

These two facts predisposed me to enjoy this book. It's the story of Hannah More. Who was a prolific social justice writer in Britain during the turn of the nineteenth century. She was a peer of William Wilberforce, and on top of being involved in the abolitionist movement, had her hand in well, pretty much every social issue of the time. I found it interesting, though, that More was pretty conservative. She presented a dynamic personality to read about. I didn't always like her that much, to be honest. There were times I thought, "I don't know if I'd really want to be friends with you;" however, what she accomplished demands respect. In her time, it was not for nothing that a single middle-class woman of less than stellar parentage come to a place where she was financially independent. And, obviously, her role in abolishing the slave trade is an amazing story.

It's definitely worth the read, but if you're not one to pick up a history book and naturally enjoy it, this book may be a bit dry.

Unbroken // Laura Hillenbrand

I didn't read Seabiscuit, because I find it hard to engage in stories that center around animals. This may make me an unfeeling block of no emotions, but it is what it is. To this day, even after becoming a parent, I do not understand the hype over Finding Nemo.

ANYWAY, I say all that so you can understand the impact of this next sentence: After reading Unbroken, I might read Seabiscuit.

You see, Seabiscuit, too, was written by Hillenbrand, and Unbroken might be my favorite book I've read this entire semester. It's the biography of Louis Zamerpini, a Japanese POW survivor from World War II. The story itself is amazing, but in the hands of a less capable writer it could have easily crumbled; or, heaven forbid, had it been made straight into a movie and the story never given the due diligence a book can afford to give it. I'm not even going to tell you anything about it because I don't want to ruin anything.

Okay, yes I am: at one point Zamperini, while holding his breath underwater to escape being shot at, punches sharks in the face. IN. THE. FACE.

More analogies? The movie was car repair shop coffee to the book's french press. Do. Not. watch the movie without reading this book. If you have to choose one, read the book. Please, for me. Thank you.

Maude // Donna Mabry

I have a rule about sad biographies or memoirs: I will read ones written by Frank McCourt, and that's it.

Because a sad biography, no matter how fascinating, makes my heart feel like a flat balloon for like three days after I'm done with the book. Unless it's written by Frank McCourt, who is incredibly good at writing purpose into pain, in my humble opinion. Maude kind of ended like this:

So she laid down and thought about how if she had been a better/different/braver person her life would not have absolutely sucked. The End.

I won't go all the way and say that I shouldn't have read it, because I enjoyed the realistic look at a woman's life during this specific time period in our country, but it was by far my least favorite book on this list.



I Want My Hat Back // Jon Klassen

My sister got this for Zeke last Christmas, I believe. We pulled it out sometime in February and it is hands down my favorite children's book of the moment.

Probably in part (spoiler alert!!) because the bear totally eats the rabbit who stole his hat. Finally, a book that more appropriately displays a predatory animal's capabilities.

Plus the illustrations are not a visual equivalent to eating an entire can of icing. I enjoy kids books that are a little less stimulating.





The Wounded Heart // Dr. Dan Allender

This was my intense read of the semester. It took me the longest to finish because of the topic. Dr. Allender does an excellent job of communicating the compassion he has for victims of childhood sexual abuse, all the while telling their stories with respect.

It's an excellent book, I just had to walk away from it every once in awhile to remind myself that the world can be a good place too, as well as one that is full of very difficult, evil things.

I'll be frank, having not gone through sexually abusive experiences during my childhood, I have often been left grasping for things to say when the topic comes up with people that have. I want to emphasize that by no means was my desire to equip myself to attempt to seriously counsel people through processing something like this. That is for people (like Dr. Allender) who have given their lives to the study of helping people find healing & wholeness in the wake of sexual abuse. However, being in a job that involves talking to people about vulnerable things, where this has and will continue to come up, it felt irresponsible to not familiarize myself with it in some way.

I say all of this because if you are in my shoes, I would highly recommend this book. Empathy is in high demand and low supply these days, and for me at least, this book helped increase my empathy for those who were sexually abused as children. I also feel like it made the topic less scary to approach. Just as difficult, certainly, but less scary. I imagine it would help those who did experience sexual abuse as well, but can't speak with the utmost confidence because of my ignorance. In summary: do not pick up if you're needing something emotionally light & airy, but if you have little to no knowledge of sexual abuse and would like to educate yourself on the effects sexual abuse has on a persons mind, body, & soul, it's worth a read.


The Jesus I Never Knew // Phillip Yancey

I listened to this book, technically, rather than reading it, but I still count it. Several years ago I read Yancey's, What's So Amazing About Grace? and loved it. Ever since then I've wanted to read more by him but never got around to it.

I'm glad I did. For me, the word for Yancey's writing is refreshing. Something about the way he approaches Jesus feels like fresh air blowing through a stuffy room. I appreciated the way he highlighted Jesus' humanity, never sacrificing his deity in the process.

It's hard to write about Jesus. None of us have ever met him in the flesh, and he is - literally - the only human of his kind. Completely God, completely man. One of us, and not, all at the same time. He was holy & hungry. I felt closer to Jesus when reading (listening to?) this book, which is, obviously, a good thing.

Bread & Wine // Shauna Niequist

This was my first Shauna Niequist book, and fell into the category of "things I wouldn't normally pick up to read." She has a specific style that I happen to enjoy every once in awhile. That is, it feels like a conversation you're having with a friend that may go somewhere or it may not, but it doesn't matter because the point is to just be - not accomplish a task.

It wasn't a recipe book, at all, though it did have recipes. It felt like a combination of a spiritual memoir, a book about food and the place it has in our culture, and a recipe book all in one.

What I enjoyed was her vulnerability. She was honest about her shortcomings with food and, even more so, honest about the fact that she doesn't have everything figured out yet. She also discusses her journey through trying to conceive while three miscarriages. There were times I wished I could cry right alongside her. I think being able to write about hard things in a way that moves people to empathy, but isn't despairing or hopeless, is hard to do - but she did it. She also made me laugh out loud, and at the risk of sounding unbelievably pretentious, whenever a book can make me do that I consider it a win.

Abba's Child // Brennan Manning 

Well, I cried a lot. Recently I felt prompted by the Lord to dig deeper into the meaning of grace. I have been wanting to pick up Brennan Manning's books for awhile, and as I was reaching for a theology book to delve into grace I felt the Lord specifically put Manning's name on my heart.

I'll let you know if I should have started with The Ragamuffin Gospel after I read it. For now I'll just say, that if you have a hard time connecting with God, if seeing Him as a kind father is something you are really thirsting for, this is a good book to read.

However, I think this is also a "right place, right time" book. Where I'm at is a right place and right time for me. So if you pick it up and it doesn't do much for you, try again in a year. Just make sure you definitely try again.

The Reason for God // Timothy Keller 

Things that fall along the lines of theology and apologetics waken my heart. I have always been a student and always will be. I connect to God deeply through the study of His Person and His Word. Some of my most intense moments of worship have been over a church history book or during an exegetical teaching. I understand this is not everyone's cup of tea, so my perception of this book may be biased.

If you have an agnostic friend that genuinely is curious about this whole "God" thing, give them this book.

If you have a Christian friend that is going through a period of intense doubt, this book may not be what they need, but it might be worth them picking it up.

This was the first book I've read by Keller. I've read his wife's work before, and what I appreciate about both of them is their methodical approach. To say they're books are well thought out is an understatement.

So, if Bread & Wine was a long conversation, this book feels more like a college lecture -a really good lecture, like the kind that make you want to give your whole life to study whatever the professor is lecturing about. Both are good and needed, but very different.

What books have you been reading lately? I love any and all recommendations. :) 

5.09.2015

To the College Graduates

When I first decided to go into campus ministry, it was because I thought people do a lot of the "becoming who they're going to be" in college. A lot of life decisions are made, for good or bad. I wanted to be part of that. I wanted to bring Jesus into the lives of those who hadn't met Him, and I wanted to help those who already had.

I still think college is a time of great change and figuring out who you are and all that, but it's not the reason I'm still in campus ministry.

I'm here because of what people face after college: life, death, joy, pain, laughter & sorrow. Life can be exactly what you wanted, but it can also knock your knees out from underneath you, leaving you flat on your back and wondering, "How did I get here?" Usually it's a bit of both.

I'm convinced that all of that, all of life, is best lived surrendered to Jesus, and I'd like to do what I can to help people figure that out sooner rather than later.

So every graduation season I feel a bit emotional, because I'm reminded of why I'm doing this, and if I could sit down with every graduate I know, this is what I would tell them:

Find your people. 

How can I say this casually? This is a non-negotiable. No matter what our culture tries to feed you, you cannot conquer life by yourself. No one is that cool. No one.

Though life after college is not an episode of Friends, there is a reason that show resonates with so many.

Find a group of people that are committed to loving you in your crappiest moments, because you will probably have more than a few of them; people who will gracefully question your decision making skills; people that know you well enough to ask the questions that need to be asked; people worth listening to when it comes to seeking advice about things like who you should marry, if you should move to a different city for that job opportunity, and if you should buy a house or a car or get that tattoo; most importantly, people you can be brave enough to ask for help in your weakest moments. Don't worry, you'll know what I'm talking about when it happens, because everything in you will desire to wall up and figure it out by yourself.

Life after college is not an episode of Friends because what I'm talking about is hard. This involves getting hurt, sometimes badly. It involves forgiveness, and awkwardness, and stumbling over your words, and clumsily loving other human beings. There are times you may wound or be wounded and a small voice says, "I don't really know if this is worth it."

It is worth it.

Separate your identity from your calling, and find both. 

A year from now, you might be working at Starbucks. You might find yourself living at home with your parents, working whatever job you could find because your deferment is up on your student loans.

You may find yourself in your dream job, and life is exactly where you wanted it to be. You may find yourself in your dream job but still feel empty and restless when you lay down at night. Who knows, no one does because you're not there yet.

Your worth does not lay in whatever fills your waking hours. It does not lay in whatever company's name is on your paycheck. It does not lay in the accolades of man, awards you receive, and your accomplishments. It certainly does not lay in the lack of these things. It lays in the heart of God, and His love for you.  

That being said, figuring out the thing which fills you with life, even when it's at its absolute hardest, is a search that is worth your time, energy, and sacrifice. Figure out what you are called to do, but hold in an open hand whatever that calling may be. Understand that it may not look like you thought, and there may be a season that you're not pursuing your calling. This bears no weight on your worth as a human being.

Choose sacrifice over comfort. 

I can say almost absolutely, because of the culture we live in, to not actively fight against materialism and escapism is to succumb to it.

It seems awkward to me, to get all stirred up about things like Netflix and Facebook, but I've seen the horrifying amount of opportunities in our world for people to escape so they don't have to deal with life, and it makes me angry.

I've done it. I am doing it. It is a daily struggle for me to not do it.

Please hear me say that there are many things that offer comfort that are not inherently evil. I totally have a Facebook profile and my husband and I just finished watching Parks & Rec through for the second time on Amazon Prime.

I think I feel this so passionately because in my own life, and in the life of many around me, I have seen so much potential wasted.

I see mighty hearts that are capable of loving people in a way that makes me weep, I see courage the likes that this world hasn't experienced in a long time, I see people that carry peace with them and wrap it around every body in the room as if this was something as easy as breathing.

These are not exaggerations. These are gifts that I've witnessed, and I've seen myself, and people with gifts like these, choose a TV show over loving someone who needs it. Choose what is easy over what is hard.

I want to emphasize that periodically checking out - whatever that looks like - so that you can take a break from people is a healthy thing to do. We all need breaks, or we'd crash and burn.

But don't choose comfort over sacrifice. The world needs human beings who bring their potent gifts of healing to hard situations, who are capable of engaging in hard things way more than it needs people who know what happened last week on Grey's.

Learn how to grieve disappointment. 

This has recently been added to my prayer because it is something I have just begun learning. This is something people talk about a lot, but you can't tangibly understand it until you've experienced it.

Life is hard. There will be small disappointments and big ones. There will be parties cancelled because of weather and there will be deaths of those you love. Learn how to weep, learn how to mourn, and learn how to do this in a safe community.

The price of not grieving is cynicism or callousness, which leads - in my opinion - to an unaffected heart.

"The unaffected heart is one of the dark mysteries of human existence. It beats dispassionately in human beings with lazy minds, listless attitudes, unused talents, and buried hopes.... Years wasted in vain regrets, energies dissipated in haphazard relationships and projects, emotions blunted, passive before whatever experiences the day brings, they are like snoring sleepers who resent having their peace disturbed. Their existential mistrust of God, the world, and even themselves underlies their inability to make a passionate commitment to anyone or anything." - Brennan Manning

Choose Jesus. 

Ahead of you is so much. I'm only six years in front of you and there are times it feels like an eternity has passed since sitting in that auditorium, because of how much life can be squeezed out of each day.

Some days that life will be joy and laughter and song and you will go to sleep thinking, "What is this beauty that I've been allowed to witness?" Some days it will feel like the life is being squeezed out of you. You'll be sucker-punched, left empty, disillusionment will be your bed fellow. David describes it in the Psalms:

I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint. My heart has turned to wax; it has melted within me.

At the end of each day, no matter what it brings, will be Jesus. You will find Him among your people, He will secure your identity and communicate your calling, He has lived our chief example of what it looks like to choose sacrifice over comfort, and He will weep with you - in mourning and joy.

It is important to understand that your life may not fall apart if you don't choose Jesus over all else. This is the truth: there are many, many people who live life and don't choose Jesus. Their lives are full of good things, and often they experience less hardship than those who do choose Jesus.

So the point of choosing Him is not a guarantee against pain. It's not a get out of jail free card, in fact in many places it is literally quite the opposite.

Choose Christ because He is real and He is the source of everything that is real. Even those who don't choose Christ experience real goodness, and real love, and real life because God is a good God and extends us the grace of experiencing Him during our time on earth.

The difference is, those that never choose Him will never understand where the real things they have come from, and when things disappoint or break down or are lost, as they are prone to do, they are without anchor.

May you find your people.
May you understand the difference between your identity and your calling, and find both.
May you choose sacrifice over comfort.
May you learn how to grieve well.

And may you choose Jesus above all things.

3.05.2015

Fruit of the Spirit Series // Peace

Click for posts on love and joy.

***
peace.

"I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world." John 16.33 

I turn 28 in two days. This seems pretty young to me. I use to feel overwhelmed by how "old" I was getting, but somewhere after my 25th birthday I realized that was simply the shock of becoming an adult.

Now that I've stopped feeling overwhelmed (for the most part), I feel really young. Like a weird baby-adult. A babult.

Anyway.

Birthdays were always a big deal to me when I was in middle school & high school. I always thought I'd wake up the morning of my birthday... better. Like all the physically flawed bits of myself would have died in the night with my childish former age. This, of course, never happened.

When I hit college, it wasn't as much my physical flaws that I wished changed, but emotional, spiritual, & mental ones. I wanted to wake up mature, wise, sophisticated... basically I wanted to wake up as the coolest person on the planet. This, of course, also never happened.

So for a long time, birthdays would come and go and I'd always be kind of surprised, and disappointed, at how much the same I felt as the person I was on my birthday the year before. (If you think it says something about my personality that I expected some secret-birthday-magic change every year, even though it didn't happen any year previous, you'd be right.)

The thought never occurred to me to look back more than one birthday - probably because the younger you are you don't have a ton of birthdays to "look back" on, really. Now, though, I can look back AN ENTIRE DECADE, and find there someone who was legally considered an adult. (lolz)

I'm not sure if this introspective-birthday is now a habit of mine or what, but it happened unintentionally while reading Tim Keller's The Reason for God.

There is a section where Keller talks about the ramifications of humans placing their identity in things other than Christ: wealth, intellectual abilities, success, etc, and how (ironically) the more we place our identity in things that *aren't* Christ, the less we become. Eventually, Keller argues, we will only become that thing. We will lose who we are completely. Humans, trying to fill a need we were never intended to fill, wind up achieving the exact opposite of the desired goal. If you place your identity in being successful, you will become nothing but your success, and should you eventually fail, you will be nothing at all.

As I was reading this part of the book, a wave of deep gratitude rolled through me. I pictured myself, ten years ago, and saw a young woman who had placed her identity in many things outside of Jesus.

I had placed my sense of self in the hands of my friends, my intellectual capabilities, my accomplishments, the romantic interest of men, and my all around awesome-ness. As much as I'd like to say so, that last one is not a joke.

That young woman was also incredibly bound up in fear. The thought of any one of these identities being taken from me would kind of send me into a panicky restlessness: rejected by a guy I liked, getting poor grades, one of my friends being mad at me, the thought of never accomplishing anything, the thought of being flawed on any level deeper than, "Sorry I was a bit rude to you, I'm just really hungry," etc.

When one of them would be shown lacking, maybe not quite as stable as I needed them to be, I would fight. The fear of them failing me bound me more and more. Like a trap that holds you tighter the more you struggle.

When I realized that my false identities weren't going to cut it, my life crumbled around me. Who would I be if not (insert whatever)? Who would want me if I wasn't those things?

So instead of facing this hot mess of an emotional situation, I ran. Because I'm a babult and I deal with things, right?

I eventually fell into a heap of exhausted, empty emotions. That trap bound all the tighter from my own efforts to free myself.

Then Jesus came.

He began the process of stripping away each and every one of my false identities, he came alongside me when I was all bound up and placed His hand on my face, bent His head down and touched His forehead to mine, and said, "I am here, and this fear will not destroy you." 

He pointed to those repulsive and beautiful scars on His hands and said, "Right here. Your peace is right here. I walked through hell and conquered it so that you could have access to me when you face your own hell, and I've got all the peace you need." 

And He sat with me, slowly loosening those fear-bindings until they gave way. And then, even (especially?) when it turned out my fears might have been true, I faced them with a strength & peace that was not my own.

Now, I'm a woman who is a whole lot less than who she was ten years ago, but has by the grace of God become a whole lot more. And possibly the best part has been less fear, and more peace.

Peace, to me, is stronger than just an emotion. It does not (thankfully) require perfection, because it is far greater than our circumstances.

(This seems to be a running theme with these Fruit of the Spirit. That they are at their truest form when they blossom counter-intuitively.)

As I've learned how to place my identity in Jesus, in my scarred Savior, my self becomes more stable. I know the Lord is not done and though I have placed my identity in Christ, there are deeper and deeper places for Him to replace whatever junk I've tried to prop myself up on with Him. From what I've experienced so far, it is beyond worth it.

When I wake up in the morning, the woman who stands before me is becoming increasingly peaceful. Content. Steady. That is nothing short of a miracle.

So, even before my birthday came this year, I realized there has been quite a change. Though it has nothing to do with any ridiculous birthday magic.