What I’m Into: October 2014

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October flew by for me. I feel as though I was just putting together this post from September, and I feel a bit overwhelmed trying to process the month! But here we go anyway. (Today I’m linking up with Leigh Kramer!)

Read:

Speak: How Your Story Can Change the World (Wieseth): I enjoyed this book. It was not earth-shattering, but it’s full of good stories and lots of wise thoughts. I have been thinking a lot about how my love of stories and storytelling finds its roots in my relationship with Jesus, and Nish did a great job hammering some of that out. If you are a writer and a follower of Jesus, it will give you plenty to process.

Jesus Feminist (Bessey):  Love, love, love. You can read more of my thoughts on this book here.

Reading:

Travelling Mercies (Lamott), Voyage of the Dawn Treader (Lewis), Goblet of Fire (Rowling), Courageous Leadership (Hybels), The Sticky Faith Guide for Your Family (Powell), Believing God (Moore), A Wrinkle in Time, (L’Engel)

Listened to:

Serial. I’ve Instagrammed and tweeted and told everyone I know about Serial. I’m obsessed. At first, I tried to pace myself so I wouldn’t run out of episodes, but that didn’t last very long. I sit on the edge of my seat until every Thursday, and try to save myself some mindless tasks for those days so I’ll have prime listening time. A crime drama is totally NOT my thing, but the storytelling is fabulous and the story intriguing. I don’t know what to believe! If you’re not listening, you should be.

I really enjoyed the conversation with Anne Bogel on this episode of the Influence Podcast.

Brigid Schulte on the Sarah R. Bagley pocast was so interesting. I have wanted to read her book for awhile, but now it has jumped up my list. Because she did such extensive research for her book, I think she brings a perspective and some information to this conversation that other people aren’t bringing. She also talks about the connection between her procrastination and perfectionism, which I wrote about awhile back.

Around the Internet:

I read this and this about the American Girl dolls, and was a bit heartbroken. Growing up, I read the complete series (what the heck is the plural of series?!) for Felicity, Kirsten, Samantha, Addy, and Molly. I loved those girls, and I don’t care if it sounds cheesy, but they helped me understand the important role of girls in history. I distinctly remember learning about apprenticeship, loyalists, child labor, the Underground Railroad, and food rationing for the first time in those books. I’m so disappointed to hear of the way they are becoming watered down and ethnocentric.

Why Do We Do Halloween? from Shaun Groves. Short and sweet. I have mixed feelings about Halloween, some of which are expressed nicely in this story.

What’s Behind the Great Podcast Renaissance? I don’t want to sound all hipster on you, but I have been listening to podcasts for a long time. Originally, I was just the RELEVANT podcast, the NPR staples, the Paperclipping Roundtable, and some sermons. At one point, I asked for podcast recommendations on Twitter and Facebook and didn’t get a single response. Now, I subscribe to over 60 podcasts. (though I do NOT, by any means, listen to all of those episodes!). I love them. Evan suggested at one point that I publish some podcast reviews here on the blog…is that something anyone would be interested in?

Self-Care for the Highly Sensitive Parent: (There’s that Anne Bogel again!) Like Anne says in this post, I also didn’t know I was highly sensitive (I didn’t even know it was a thing) until I read Quiet by Susan Cain. It’s part of my personality I had unwittingly fought against for a long time! I’m learning to embrace it now, and self-care is a big part of that.

Anything good to share? Send some good links my way! 

On David & Goliath

Tonight, I’m thinking about Goliath.

A few Sundays ago, the preschoolers in our children’s ministry talked about David and Goliath, and the night before–as my brain already jumped to the next day’s work–I was asking, “What should I tell my volunteers about this story? What haven’t they heard before?”

The tale of David & Goliath is one of those Bible stories we’ve all heard a million times. It’s alluded to often: David, the quintessential underdog who slays–literally–the behemoth Goliath. Small, preteen, shepherd David. Nine foot, military man, Goliath. The Royals and the Yankees. The upstart and the incumbent. David and Goliath.

One of the great joys of my job is helping my volunteers understand how the Bible story–which they will share with their kiddos in the simplest terms–applies to their own lives. Instead of asking, “What are we going to teach our kids?” I ask, “What does God want to say to me?” I’ve learned so much about what God’s up to in my own heart by engaging in this process every week. Scripture comes alive for me this way.

So, what is God saying to me through David and Goliath?

Personally, David and Goliath is a Bible story much like Noah’s ark and Jesus’ feeding of 5,000: it’s hard to actually wrap my mind around, to logically work out the details, to consider its implications for the people who experienced it. Meanwhile, we’ve packaged it as a nice children’s story for so long, it’s hard to consider with fresh eyes. That’s what I found myself thinking in front of the bathroom mirror last Saturday as I wiped away my mascara & brushed my teeth.

Am I facing any “Goliaths” right now?

Not really.

We’re healthy and our jobs our stable and our family’s fine. No storms to calm or fire to put out.

I am not staring up at a giant right now. No, instead, I’ve just got the mundane and small and uneventful: another pile of laundry, another email to send, another meal to plan, another drive to work.

Still, I find myself wondering if my stone will fly far enough.

God helps me do the extraordinary, but mostly what’s in front of me seems perfectly ordinary. I’m just the small shepherd boy, delivering lunch to my brothers, and I’m not always sure I’m doing even that well.

Still, I want to look at my smallness with fresh eyes, to see the gospel behind, before, and all around me. I want to abide with Christ, the tendrils of the vine wrapped around each moment, knowing that when I do so, each of these small tasks is gradually shaping me to look more like Jesus.

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My ambition and pride gets in the way of all this, leaving me constantly looking for a bigger and better thing. I love David because he didn’t arrive at the battlefield posturing for some position, accolade, responsibility. He just delivered lunch.

God uses the unqualified and the overlooked, the lowly shepherd boy whose sole responsibility is delivering a meal to those seemingly doing the real work and fighting the real battles. Smack dab in the middle of our small acts of faithfulness, He hands off the job He’s been prepping us for all along.

A Saturday Book Review: Jesus Feminist

Wouldn’t this be a fun little blog series? Book reviews on Saturdays? We’ll see. 

I have loved Sarah Bessey’s blog for quite a while, so I bought Jesus Feminist almost as soon as it released. It took me awhile to get around to starting it–I hate being in the middle of too many books at once–and I’m just now, finally finishing the book.

It started slow for me. I’m not sure why. In the first few chapters, (though, in all honesty, it’s been awhile since I read them, so maybe my memory is foggy!) it was a little more cut-and-dry, a little less flowery and poetic than most of Bessey’ writing. That caught me off guard, and I had trouble getting into a good rhythm. Still, I was determined to power through and finish.

I’m so glad I did.

I’ve willingly embraced and self-identified with the word feminist for a long time: ever since the day in AP US History when Mr. O’Brien said, “Raise your hand if you want women to vote. Guess what? That makes you a feminist.” I probably identified with the word long before that, but didn’t realize why. It’s a running joke between Evan and I, when I get fired up about some issue or story and he says, “Oh, it’s because you’re a feminist. Ian, your mother is a feminist.” And we laugh. Because doesn’t that word make people uncomfortable? I guess we start to identify certain monikers with the most extreme of their followers. In the same way that we use “liberal” and “right-wing” to deride those on the other side of the aisle, we love to use labels we don’t understand to put up barriers and isolate ourselves.

Personally, I’ve wrestled with the word as I’ve wrestled with my own calling. I’m a mom. I work full-time out of the home, and I work part-time from home. I’m a wife. I’m a writer. I’m a former teacher. I work in ministry. Politically, I waver back and forth between liberal and conservative depending on the issue, and I am staunchly pro-life, but that stance means much more to me than simply being anti-abortion. All that being said, I recognize that many within American evangelicalism will have differing opinions on whether or not I’m embracing my “true calling” as a woman, and whether or not I’m exemplifying “biblical womanhood” (though I shudder to even use that expression).

I, like many women, wrestle with comparison. I fear that if I were to stay home with my kids, I might be doing my most important work but not living up to my full potential vocationally. When I work, I feel guilty that I’m not at home. I imagine this is why more women don’t self-identify as feminists, or at least aren’t talking about it. Because each of us wrestles with the idea that we are simply not enough, that we can’t fully identify with the phrase because perhaps we aren’t fully in one camp or another. But there’s a better way.

Bessey outlines how a desire to participate more fully in the building of God’s Kingdom made her a feminist. She writes, “…in Christ, and because of Christ, we are invited to participate in the Kingdom of God through redemptive movement–for both men and women–toward equality and freedom.  We can choose to move with God, further into justice and wholeness, or we can choose to prop up the world’s dead systems, baptizing injustice and power in sacred language. Feminism is just one way to participate in this redemptive movement.”

Once I hit Chapter 6, I couldn’t put this book down. I actually read Chapter 7 twice, in part because my mind needed some extra time to sort out my thoughts but mostly because it was just so good.

As the book goes on, Bessey writes about motherhood changed her understanding of God, her relationship with Him, and her sense of how He’s at work in her own life. I resonated so deeply with what she wrote in these chapters. My relationship with God had changed as a result of pregnancy and motherhood, but Bessey put it into words in a way that I could not. I practically underlined the entire chapter, and I prayed and cried my way through much of it.

Overall, though, the message of this book goes far beyond motherhood or womanhood or feminism. It’s just about the gospel. Bessey’s love for Jesus is captivating, and it oozes out of every paragraph. Her writing is humble, beautiful and encouraging, and at it’s heart, the book is about acknowledging the worth and value God sees in each of us, regardless of gender or gifting. It’s about embracing our identity in Christ, affirming that identity in others, and engaging fully in the work of building God’s kingdom.

“Rest in your God-breathed worth. Stop holding your breath, hiding your gifts, ducking your head, dulling your roar, distracting your soul, stilling your hands, quieting your voice, and satiating your hunger with the lesser gifts of this world.”  (pg. 195)

This is a message I’ll never grow tired of hearing, and one I need to be reminded of often. I have worth and value not because of my capabilities, my accomplishments, or my choices. I have worth and value because I am a child of God.

If you flip through my copy of the book, you’ll find an awful lot of underlining. You’ll also see a lot of “Yes!” and “Love!” and “Amen” scribbled in the margins. It’s that kind of book.

“That’s the work of the gospel, isn’t it? Not me first; it’s you first–we’re all equal to serve. I want both men and women to flourish in their God-ordained self; I want women around the world to be safe and well educated, to have rights of citizenship, voting, and property; safe arrivals of their babies, the choice of marriage for love, freedom from sexual exploitation. Our energy goes toward the Kingdom as part of our participation in Kingdom living, and we do it on behalf of others first.” (pg. 195)

Let it be so, Jesus.

Dear Ian (13 Months)

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Dear Ian,

Good morning, sweet baby.

It’s about 8 a.m.. You woke up an hour ago, but I wasn’t quite ready to start my day. (Did I turn off my alarm without realizing, again?) I walked into your room and in true form, you were standing up in your crib, waiting for my arrival. I handed you your pacifier (which we’ve stopped giving you at night), adjusted your blankie across your shoulders, and dropped 3 of your favorite books into the crib: Olivia, Sophie’s Big Day, and I Love You Through and Through.

Those three books are enough to tide you over for a little while: I can use the bathroom, throw my hair up, start some tea, make your milk. Today you gave me a few extra minutes, so I even journaled a tiny bit (very tiny: one paragraph) before you started calling for me again. (Not by saying, “mama,” though. When’s that going to start, little man?)

We phased out bottles last month, so you drink all your milk from sippy cups now. You no longer want to sit with us to drink your milk, but first thing in the morning, I try to make you sit with me for at least a few minutes, and this morning you were pretty content to do that. As we walked over to the couch, I leaned in to kiss your forehead and, God, you smelled so good and sweet and perfect.

I’m not sure what it was about that smell: not quite a baby smell, certainly not Johnson & Johnson, but familiar somehow, like home.

Like you.

We sat down on the couch, snuggled into my usual spot, on the lefthand side, under the lamp. I pulled the blue blanket over our feet, and you said, “Mama,” and looked up at me. I kissed your nose, you drank your milk.

I want to bottle that moment up and carry it with me everywhere.

You’re the best.

Love you,

Mama

At 13 months, you are…

saying “dada” all the time; it’s your go-to word for everything

drinking all your milk from a sippy cup

refusing to eat any vegetables besides broccoli

singing the “I love you” song all the time

dancing by bouncing and bobbing your head up and down

standing without holding on to things

practicing walking while holding on to mom & dad’s hands

reading Olivia, and saying “ball” when you see her big red beach ball

making monkey noises when you see monkeys

pointing to the things you want

giving hugs and kisses whenever we ask

On Stories, Writing Lunch, and Jesus

I have long sensed that a strong connection must exist between God and story, but I’m only just beginning to put words to it. After all, story has always been the way civilization attempted to explain nature, ambition, good, and evil. Jesus himself chose story rather than lecture, and He often told stories rather than give answers.

Melissa, Lauren, Melanie, and I have been meeting for writers’ lunches for a few months now. One of the reasons I’m most grateful for these lunches is because of the way they’ve solidified and deepened our friendship so quickly. It’s not simply the consistent time spent breaking yummy Panera sourdough bread with one another–though that helps. I think our friendships have gone quickly to the deeper, stronger, more vulnerable places because we are telling our stories–quite literally. Each week, we bring a blog post (or something we might turn into a blog post later). We read them together, point out the typos, ask questions about the structure or meaning of phrases. More significantly, we affirm the truth the others are telling.

C.S. Lewis famously said, “Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another, ‘What! You too? I thought I was the only one.’” Melissa, Melanie, Lauren, and I have become further knit together each time someone says, “Yes. I totally understood what you were trying to say there.”

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(click for image source)

Right now, I’m reading Speak by Nish Weiseth. It’s simple and straightforward, without much flowery language or metaphor, but it is full of wisdom, and certainly lots of inspiration as far as writing and storytelling are concerned. I’m not quite finished with the book yet–maybe 2/3 of the way through it–but today, I found my thoughts wandering to our writing lunches.

Weiseth writes, “These shared stories and this retelling of ourselves are the things that build relationships. A relationship deepens when the stories get longer and more intricate, and a relationship deepens when the number of stories shared between people grows.” That is, quite literally, what’s happening when we meet for lunch.

I don’t yet know every detail of these girls’ lives, all the twists and turns their paths have taken, but we fill in the gaps with every story told (even the incomplete and the rough drafts–maybe especially those), and I’m learning I can trust these women like the oldest and dearest friends.

I think this must be why people trusted Jesus so easily when they met Him in-person: like the woman at the well, they could sense that He already knew their stories and loved them all the more for them.

On My Vacation

Tomorrow morning, less than 12 hours from now, I’ll go back to work after an entire week of vacation.

It seemed as if it had been absolutely forever since I had a vacation. There was, of course, maternity leave, but I only took a month off and there was, of course, a newborn and not much sleeping. In March, I went back to work full-time and despite the occasional sick day and my trip to Malawi, this was my first time off.

Six glorious days, plus weekends.

I love my job. I would continue to work in my department at our church for my entire life if God so willed, but even still, work is work sometimes, and I think that’s ok. Sometimes, the nitty-gritty details aren’t so life-giving. I don’t particularly love hanging up memory verse posters or hole-punching or restocking animal crackers, and goodness, all the e-mails.

And sometimes, ministry is stressful. Eternity is in the balance, and while I know Jesus is in control, there is so much riding on what happens on Sundays. I know that God can open a child’s ears even if the curriculum is not just so, and I know the Holy Spirit can soften an adult’s heart even if my welcome isn’t perfect. And yet. I just want to do my job so. well.

These days, my perfectionist tendencies have lessened their grip on my home life. I don’t mind that there are crumbs on the floor or that a frame on the gallery wall is hanging crooked. I don’t mind that I forgot to buy a cinnamon broom at Publix, and I don’t mind that we ate frozen pizza for dinner twice this week.

However, I haven’t been able to shake my perfectionism at work. I pride myself on working really hard, on accomplishing a lot, and on making things better. God has humbled me quite a bit over the past several years with that regard, but I still find myself desperate for approval and terrified of failure. It’s exhausting, and it often leads me riddled with guilt when I just can’t cross every item off the to-do list, fill every hole in the schedule, execute everything perfectly.

All that to say, I needed vacation. I almost cried tears of joy driving away from work that Thursday, because I needed rest and relief so badly. I felt it deep in my bones.

Before we left for Charleston, I purged my iPhone apps. I deleted Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest, as well as the Gmail app. I deleted the only two games I play. I tried to remove everything that I go to when I need rest but doesn’t actually re-create or rejuvenate me.

This week, I spent time reading and scrapbooking. I cleaned or did laundry only when I felt like it. I desperately ignored the word “should.” I went for walks, which is, admittedly, something I have to talk myself into but know is worth it. I got a pedicure and a frappuccino, using gift cards I had saved expressly for this purpose. I took lots of photos with my nice camera, I added more stuff to our “donate” pile, I decorated for fall. I took naps. I wrote.

I am going back to work tomorrow more refreshed than I have felt in a long time. I know, without a doubt, that I will be able to do my job better this week–more focused and more energized–than I have in a very long time.

Here’s the deal, though: I had to fight off the guilt every. single. day. Every day, I needed to pray.

Jesus, help me walk in freedom and not guilt. Help me remember that my worth does not lie in my job. Help me remember that You are at work in our church whether or not I am. Help me value important over urgent. Help, help, help. Thanks.

He helped.

As He does.

The Presence of Rain

A long, long time ago, Angie Smith told a story that stuck with me. It was in the aftermath of her sweet Audrey’s death, and she mentioned that she recognized ringing church bells as a reminder of God’s presence. They seemed to ring at random times, just when she needed them, and she took it as a gentle reminder from God. “I’m still here.”

That story stuck with me, and a few weeks later, I decided that for me, rain is the thing. I don’t recall the exact timing and what was happening in my life at the time, but I needed God to show up, and it rained. Since then, I’ve noticed the rain on days I need it most. I think it’s Jesus, with His gentle hand on my shoulder.

“I’m still here.”

It’s ironic, I suppose, considering God used rain to annihilate almost every living creature at one point. (Why, again, have we turned Noah’s ark into a warm and fuzzy children’s story?) It was when the rain dissipated that Noah and His family received their promise of God’s goodness, faithfulness, and constant presence. Still, I have always loved the rain, and in a turn of God’s redemption, we need it. We need it for refreshment, rejuvenation, and growth.

Last winter, I was driving home from work on the day our former pastor passed away. I was more angry with God than I had ever been before, and though I looked, I could not find the evidence of His goodness in that situation. For the first time in my life, I found myself asking, “Are you actually even here right now? What were You thinking? Where is the redemption You’ve promised, in this?” I drove home the back way, winding through a neighborhood, and slowly yet all at once, there it was: the rain. It wasn’t enough to warrant turning on my windshield wipers, and it didn’t answer all my questions, but it followed me all the way home.

“I’m still here.”

Yesterday was one of the most refreshing days I can remember in a long while. I know that staycations tend to get a bad wrap, but we should give them more credit. Yesterday was wonderful, and just what my soul needed. And as I left Starbucks in the afternoon, there it was again.

Here in central Florida, I think it rained, quite literally, every single day in September. (My husband just informed me that we had 4 days this month without rain. Four.) Our backyard is completely covered with the leaves and branches that fall from our oak tree during every storm. Our ceiling started leaking, along with a few windows, as if our entire townhouse suddenly decided, “That’s it! I’ve had enough of the rain. I give up!” Somewhere along the way, the rain just faded into the background, and I stopped noticing it, except that yet again, I noticed my damp window sills and pant hem.

I know that it is Florida, and I shouldn’t be surprised by the rain. You can set your watch by the summertime thunderstorms, I know. But it never gets old for me.

It want Jesus’ presence in my life to be like the rain: arriving like clockwork, steady and constant, continually seeping in from everywhere. I don’t want to be surprised by it, but I don’t want to be immune to it either. I want His presence to be, not an undercurrent, but a backdrop, against which everything else shines more clearly, wet and dewy, always reminding me.

“I’m still here.”