Soul Winter and a dash of Summer


Friends, if you know me, it is no secret that winter and I are not friends.  Winter came hard this year, and it had a death grip.  It refused to let go.  I’ve been teaching for a decade, and while there was the odd freak ice storm April 1st here and there that gave us a snow day because the roads were just too slippery, I’ve never had one April 16th.  Two weeks ago, that’s all it was.  Two weeks ago winter got its final battle cry in before it finally started to let go, and even then, it didn’t immediately release its grip.  We hung on in the very low single digits for almost another week.

But today, all of a sudden, it was 26 degrees, and the sun shone brilliantly.  The birds are chirping, the trees are finally thinking it might be safe to try to grow some leaves.  Barbecues are firing up, lawns are growing, I’ve had my bike out twice, I read in the hammock until I get cold, and I drove all the way home from work this afternoon with my arm out the driver’s side window.  Spring is here.  Arguably we may have jumped it and gone right to summer, but in my corner of the earth it isn’t really summer without 90% humidity, so we aren’t there yet.

There are many things I love about summer — the barbecues, the fires, the fireworks, the hammocks, the HEAT, the seasonal fruit (I could live off of peaches, concord grapes, strawberries, pears, and watermelon — and I nearly do for the whole summer, because for ten months at a time these things are imported from either America or Mexico because it’s too frigid to grow them here, and they’re just. not. the. same.)…. the BEACH.  This girl’s feet were made to dig into sand, and while it’s not the nicest water, you’ll find me on the shores of Lake Erie at any given opportunity.  I am itching for it.  This winter felt so long in so many ways, and I am longing for beaches, long days, parties and barbecues and fires… all of it.  My bare feet won’t be in a real pair of shoes again until October at least, you have my word (except to play volleyball or ride my bike).

But I’ve been in a season that has perpetually felt like winter for a long time — it’s been gloomy and dark and grey.  I’ve heard it referred to as “Soul Winter,” and at this point I don’t think I have any other words for it.  This may have less intrinsic meaning for those who love snow and crisp, cold mornings.  For those who thrive on the chill of Arctic air coming into your lungs and who live to hit the slopes and play in powder.  I am not one of those people.

What I personally experience after a long winter, I feel like my soul has been experiencing for a little over a year now, and it’s been very hard to put words to it because I don’t like to be still.  I don’t like to reflect on my feelings, sit with my thoughts, or face my fears.  I don’t enjoy being alone, and seeing as I live alone, you can imagine the frenetic pace that this would create for my life.  Last Easter I came to a place where I think my soul had finally had enough.  I tell myself that the ordeal was precipitated by too much caffeine, and I’m sure that that didn’t help, but what I know that I learned about myself in the aftermath is that I can’t manage the pace I’ve been living at…. but I haven’t done anything about it.

Because to sit with my feelings and face them is scary.  And to be alone, and still, and silent…. it means I have to.  And I don’t like that.  I can’t honestly remember the last time I really sat in silence.  Sure, I tell myself there are times when I’m silent — if I clean the house with no music on, that’s pretty silent.  When I lay in the hammock reading, that’s pretty silent.  But I was out there about half an hour ago, and that’s what prompted me to come in here and write.  It was silent for about two minutes.  There was peace and stillness and calm, and I laid in the hammock and didn’t even open the book.  I just basked in the silence.  The people around me might be right — I might need it more than I know.  But it didn’t take long before a motorcycle ripped down the street, my dog barked at the neighbour’s cat for being in her line of vision, and my neighbours came out to their porch to grill their dinner, turning on their radio and cranking some cheesy 90s pop music.  There went my silence.  And then I remembered that the beach, though I love it so deeply, isn’t much better, unless you go when it isn’t busy at all (aka on a weekday morning before school has let out) — because kids run around and screech while they love every second, and teenagers show up with their music pumping, and people fill in all around my sanctuary of space.  None of this is inherently bad, but if it’s silence I’m looking for, a public beach at a Provincial Park is not likely going to be where I find it.  If I’m being honest, I think the last time I let myself be alone, and silent, and just sit — somewhere I didn’t have my phone and I couldn’t hear other people or commotion — it had to have been last summer.  My parents live at a retreat centre at the beginning of the Rocky Mountains.  I just can’t even.  So last July sometime, I parked myself in the gazebo and sat alone and thought….. and I honestly can’t remember letting myself do it since.

One day, by myself, I hiked my way down to the river and I let my feet sit in frigid glacier water while I listened to only birds.  That day, I got time to process my feelings and my thoughts.

But the scary thing is, I haven’t really done it since.  Sure, I’ve had thoughts pop into my head, but I’ve shoved them away.  I read The Best Yes last winter.  I’ve listened to Podcasts and Audio Books.  I heard all the things about learning to say no and carving out space for my soul to breathe.  But I’m learning something I already knew.  There’s a dramatic difference between hearing and listening, between being aware and letting something sink down in deep.

I don’t want to talk about things that aren’t fun, and I don’t want to process them.  At best, I may process them with my therapist, because she has a unique ability to stop me from catastrophizing, but if I process them on my own, there’s no one to stop me, and the what ifs and the but what abouts will all come in a rush.

I was hesitant to even sit down and write this.  It’s daunting.  But I haven’t even really written anything more than book reviews since last winter either, because I process when I write.  I often don’t know what I think about something until I’ve written it down.  So a healthier version of me would be blogging or journaling all. the. time… But I’m not.  I keep the free book train rolling by writing reviews, but otherwise I tend to shove post ideas to the depths of my soul too.

I don’t know what’s different about today.  I’m reading Shauna Niequist’s Present Over Perfect, which, while so beautifully written as to make it a very easy read in theory, is impacting me so deeply that I can only take it in small chunks.  I’d borrowed the book from a friend, and two chapters in I wanted to write all over it SO BADLY because I just know this will be a book I read again.  I don’t have many of those, but I’ll come back to this.  And like it was meant to be, the next day, I found it in beautiful, pristine, hard-cover condition at a used book sale for 2.50.  I gave my friend back her copy and mine is now well loved and irreparably damaged, all at the same time.

I think it might finally be time to lean in.  I’m ready to pray and process, to think and grow.  I’m going to need to find some silence, because my pastor has said it, my therapist has said it, my home church has said it, and my current book choice (which I’ve wanted to read for a LONG time) is saying it…. and my soul is crying from somewhere way deep down saying “please!  yes!  yes to this but not yes to everything that’s thrown your way!”  In Present Over Perfect, Shauna Niequist talks about how we’re the only ones who get to control what our lives turns out like in this way.  So if it’s frantic and hurried, frenetic and stressed, too stretched to really be enjoyable…. that’s no one’s fault but mine.  My soul is ready for winter to end.  My soul is ready to bloom and thrive and flourish like it’s summer, but I suspect it can only do that if I give it space to.  I think I need to give it some silence.  I think it needs room to breathe.

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I Will Not Fear


Fear has been a topic that’s been following me around lately.

We’ve done sermons on it at church.
I’ve read a book about it (Fierce Faith by Alli Worthington ~ fantastic book!).
I’ve had conversations with friends about it because lately it seems my life is a wee bit characterized by it.

I was given the opportunity to read and review a book called “I Will Not Fear” ~ A book written by a lady named Melba Patillo Beals.  She was one of the nine African American students chosen to integrate into Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas.  I can’t imagine what life would have been like — to have felt so unwanted, so other, so less than… and such fear!  I have studied American history, and I am aware of the records of what it was like in the 50s and 60s, leading to the Civil Rights movement.  I’ve read of the Klan, of the death threats….. but what I hadn’t read, until now, was someone’s first hand account.

This book will grab you and make you hold on tight.  The story this woman tells of how she was a “first” at so many things in her life — trying to integrate into a society that thought segregation was the only way to live, going to university, going to grad school, being a single mom, getting jobs where she felt “other” not only because of her skin colour but also because of her gender — it’ll grip you.

I know I’ve experienced a great deal of fear in my life, but as I read this I realized I’ve really had very little to actually be afraid of.  That’s not the point of the book, however, because Melba offers the wisdom she learned from her Grandmother throughout, and with every story of some sort of atrocious experience that would surely knock my foundation down at the knees, she tells of how she trusted God, trusted Jesus, and lived as though the protection of God were real (and it is)!

One of my favourite parts of the book, and what I found most encouraging, were the little nuggets of summary that she included at the end of each chapter.  My story may not resemble that of Melba Patillo Beals’ in any way.  I’ll never know what it’s like to live her story.  But I do know what it’s like to live mine, and fear has no place here either.  I can take just as much encouragement from her words, and from how she did not bow to fear, as anyone else can.

“… no matter what threatening evidence appears to be true, we need not fear because God is always beside us.” (p. 165)

“As complex and dangerous as a predicament may be, God is as close as our skin.  Although peril feels like forever, God is here now.  He will guide us through the jungle of fear, if we only listen and obey.” (p. 189)

I highly recommend this book.  It’s not long, only 200 pages, so it’s a short read.  And it’s written in a way that leaves you wanting to hear more of Melba’s story, to know that it comes to a happy ending just like we always wish.  Melba Patillo Beals is a remarkable woman of faith, and we would all do well to stand in the face of adversity and fear like she did and declare “not today.”

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Book was provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc.

Free of Me


It’s not about you.

And how often do I make EVERYTHING about me?

“What about me?”  “Why didn’t I get…?” “Do they not like me?”  “Are they talking about me?”

So much of our insecurity is rooted in self-focus, in holding a mirror up to ourselves and trying to measure our circumstances around us in that light.

But what if it weren’t about you….

This book is about so much more than insecurity, though for me, that’s a big takeaway.  The idea that so much of my own insecurity could evaporate by focusing on God, and God’s plan in any given situation, is both comforting and incredibly challenging all at once.  I haven’t fully digested it yet, as I just finished the book, however, I’m sure there’s life application in it somewhere!

Sharon Hodde Miller talks about seven mirrors we use to reflect our lives, when we shouldn’t be using mirrors at all.  I promise the analogy will make piles of sense if you read the book for yourself, and for now you’ll just have to trust me.  But I was convicted and challenged about making church about me, making my friendships about me, making my appearance about me… and more.

Culminating in how loving God sets us free, and why we were designed to love and serve others… this book was so refreshing.

It’s no wonder Ann Voskamp has said that this book “may be one of the most important truths of our time.” (according to the front cover of the book… I don’t know Ann personally, though I wish I did, and I don’t think we live too terribly far from each other……. but I am not a stalker lol.)

I digress.  A lot, actually…. back on track here.

Our me-centered culture affects every area of our lives–our relationships, calling, self-image, even our faith–and it negatively impacts each one. The self-focused life robs our joy, shrinks our souls, and is the reason we get stuck in insecurity.

In Free of Me, Sharon Hodde Miller invites us into a bigger, Jesus-centered vision–one that restores our freedom and inspires us to live for more. Drawing from personal experience and Scriptural insight, Sharon helps readers

· understand how self-focus sabotages seven areas of our lives
· learn four practical steps for focusing on God and others
· experience freedom from the burden of self-focus

If you’ve been yearning for more than a self-help faith, then this paradigm-shifting message of true fulfillment is for you.

 

What others say about Free of Me:

“One of the best things for a healthy marriage, workplace, parent situation, or any calling is to realize the world is not orbiting around our axis. True joy is found when we realize there is a bigger story to tell. In Free of Me, Sharon paints this picture more beautifully than anyone I know.”–Jefferson Bethke, author of Love That Lasts

“Sharon spotlights the crippling disease of self-focus and shows us how to break free from its entanglements. If you want to walk in God’s life-giving truth, this book will help you do just that!”–Lysa TerKeurstNew York Times bestselling author; president of Proverbs 31 Ministries

“In a culture captivated by self, this book is a must-read.”–Christine Caine, founder of A21 and Propel Women

Sources:  All quotes came from the covers of the book.

Book was provided courtesy of Graf-Martin Communications, Inc. and Baker Publishing Group.

free of me

2018 — An obligatory New Year’s Day post


It is 2018.  It is January 1st.  Actually, in the time zone I inhabit, by the time I’ve hit publish on this post, it’ll likely be January 2nd.  Thankfully, I’m currently chilling in the Rockies and Mountain Standard Time has gifted me with two whole extra hours — something I’m thankful for tonight, but was annoyed by at this time last night as I set myself a reminder alarm to remember to text my Ontario peeps at 10 pm to wish THEM a Happy New Year!

Anyway, I digress.  Where was I?  Yes; it’s 2018.  Nothing really feels like it’s changed from yesterday.  But yet, so much has, hasn’t it?  We do this yearly.  We wait til January 1st to start things.  We spend the last week of December eating all the junk food in our houses in hopes to start fresh January 1st.  I was a day late with this silly plan and made my last bag of chips my personal mission for today.

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But it doesn’t have to be like this.  Futility doesn’t have to be our best friend as we launch into every single new year.  New Year’s Resolutions don’t have to be a to-do list that extends no further than the first week of January.

In the fall of 2016, my dear friend Rachel sent me a link to this thing she’d heard of called Power Sheets.  Lara Casey and her team make them over at Cultivate What Matters.  It’s designed for intentional life planning.  Intentional goal setting.  Progress.  Not perfection.  Rachel and I dove right in.  We each ordered a set and split the shipping (since it has to come from the States and the shipping is steep), and we dug in.  (This year 6 of us ordered and split shipping — highly recommend this if you’re Canadian and want your hands on a set!)  We did the prep work while discussing all of our goals together, and we were ready over the course of about a month of intentional thinking, planning, and praying to meet 2017 head on.  For me, it felt like 2017 was going to be the year I finally got my act together and stopped making resolutions I couldn’t keep.  Resolutions I knew even as I made them I wouldn’t keep.  But it’s what we do, right?

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I can’t say that my Power Sheets were overwhelmingly life-changing in 2017.  Though maybe I can — it’s hard to achieve perspective since I don’t have a 2017 without Power Sheets to compare it to.  I don’t know.  It certainly wasn’t the productive year I’d hoped it to be.  The entire point to Power Sheets is to set goals, track your tending lists, make progress, and cover yourself in grace when you fall short of your own expectations.  After all, we don’t keep pushing into what we want to change when we feel defeated and like it’s hopeless, do we?  Progress.  Not perfection.  But I know they made some difference.  I was able to measure growth in some areas.  Some were more stubborn than others, and I’ve had to re-evaluate what I really wanted to see change in this year to make sure that I was choosing the right goals.  But more importantly, I’ve had to evaluate the why for my goals.  Why am I choosing this?  Am I choosing “be healthier” because I think people will like me more?  Or am I choosing it because I actually want health and I want to be able to do things I’ve only ever dreamed of — like learn to surf.  The prep work at the beginning of the planner for each year asks big questions and makes you look deep into the whys, and I know I got to the root of some of my wishes for 2018.

I don’t have my 2017 book with me.  I don’t have the list of goals I chose for 2017 with me because they’re in my book, and they’re in Ontario, and I am not.  But I do have the goals I’ve chosen for 2018, and I’d like to share them with you.  I’d like to be a little bit vulnerable and put them out into the air for the blogosphere to read.  This year, I’ve chosen bigger, over-arching goals.  There’s a Facebook group dedicated to Power Sheets users where a couple people have referred to them as “umbrella goals.”  They’re more like a topic where I want to do some work in my life this year, and then the more specific goals (which I have a lot of for 2018) will work their way into my monthly, weekly, and daily check-lists for each month.

Without further ado, here are my umbrella goals for 2018:

  1. Finances ~ Saving and not spending needlessly.  Obviously each month will have specific targets for this.  I’d been working on it throughout 2017 as well, and with some careful planning and some good timing, I managed to pay off a pile of debt in May, and have been relishing in the freedom of that ever since.  Can I recommend You Need A Budget (YNAB) to you?  Seriously, it changed my life in March of 2016.  Jesse Mecham, the creator, has written a book and it just released last week.  It’s on my list of things to do in January.
  2. Spiritual Growth ~ Depth.  I want a relationship with Jesus that is marked by reliance, listening, and trust.  That doesn’t come from just thinking about it and hoping it comes.
  3. Fun ~ Responsible Fun; Not running to fun to escape uncomfortable emotions.  This felt like a funny goal, but through a lot of introspection this year I’ve discovered something I don’t really love about myself.  Where I’d perpetually thought I just liked to have fun, it dawned on me that I’m prone to running to fun as soon as I don’t want to deal with something that doesn’t seem fun.  Awkward relationship situation?  I run away.  Work sucks?  I want to switch jobs — it isn’t fun!  Pain?  No fun.  Let’s go on vacation instead.  Where I want to goal-set around fun this year is to make sure it’s not my escape, as much as it is something that is just necessary to live.
  4. Mental Health — This is something I began to take very seriously in 2017, as I battled some anxiety that it turned out had been simmering just beneath my surface for a long time, and I’d never dealt with it.  I’ve started seeing a counselor, and I honestly can’t recommend a professional therapist enough — seriously.  You get to talk about yourself for an hour, and you don’t have to do anyone the social courtesy of listening back to them.  My goals here revolve around leaning into stress and anxiety and the situations that cause them so that I continue to get better at managing and reducing both of these things.
  5. Leadership — I am a leader.  For better or for worse, I’m in leadership positions in my church and at work.  I’m not sure how this happened.  I’m honestly not sure how I got here.  But people see potential in me, and I’d like to harness it for good!
  6. Health — this one is so common.  How many of us set healthy lifestyle New Year’s resolutions?  This one could be a whole post for me, but it’s a very raw spot at the moment, so… nope!  That doesn’t sound fun!
  7. Creativity — Brene Brown once said in a podcast interview I was listening to her on (For the Love with Jen Hatmaker) that “Unused creativity is not benign.”  It hit me to my core.  For a long time, I’ve wanted to write but have been too afraid people wouldn’t buy it.  I’ve wanted to paint but have been self-conscious because I’m not as good as someone else.  I’ve wanted to be a better musician but again, compare myself to others and always fall short.  But if unused creativity is harmful to me, then this needs intentional work as well.
  8. Bravery.  It has occurred to me that I am not that brave.  I’m a pretty big chicken, actually.  So 2018 needs to hone in on some of those areas where I could use some bravery the most.  I read Annie F. Downs’ book “Let’s All Be Brave” (buy it on Amazon here) in November, and I cried through parts of it.  I’m so ready to be brave.  So ready.  I highly recommend the book, but if you’re determined to stay seated in. your comfort zone, it may not be for you.  I’m doing her 100 Days to Brave devotional starting as soon as I get home (as it’s arrived in Ontario before I have).
  9. Adventure — I thrive on this.  It’s linked to my fun, and it’s linked to my finances.  I found a lot of my goals are linked to each other — I actually created a very messy flow chart that reflects that!  But I will have adventure based goals.  Where will I travel next?  Europe is calling — Scandinavia?  The South of France?  Switzerland (the land of my ancestral people)?  Who knows?
  10. Relationships — This is not just the romantic kind — though that’s pretty intrinsically linked to bravery.  I want to be intentional.  I want to be present.  I want to be brave.  In all of my relationships.

 

And there you have it.  My over-arching umbrella goals.

Do you set goals?  Do you make resolutions?  Do you keep them?  If you’ve been a successful Power Sheets user, I’d love to hear from you!  I really want them to help me make big changes this year!

Even if you don’t use Power Sheets, I highly recommend both of Lara Casey’s books.  They’re less intensive than using Power Sheets, but still give you lots of great tips and encouragement for living a more intentional life.  Get Make It Happen on Amazon here, and get Cultivate on Amazon here.

Where We Belong


Oh my stars, this book.  This beautiful, wonderful book.  Historical fiction is my jam to begin with, so I knew I was going to like this book.  But I didn’t know I was going to adore and devour this book.

Where We Belong is the story of two sisters, Rebecca and Flora Hawes, who do not fit the mold of the 1890s Victorian era society they were born into in Chicago.  They’re well-read, they’re intelligent, and they’re adventurous; and they’re determined to find what God’s purpose for their lives might be.

The story, crafted wonderfully by Lynn Austin, details so much of the adventure, in pieces woven expertly together.  Just when you feel like you need more information in order to understand what’s about to happen, Austin goes back and delivers exactly the information you need to continue.  The story criss-crosses through the lives of the sisters, plus their butler, Soren, and their ladies’ maid, Kate, as the crew travels across the Sinai Desert to find a rumoured ancient biblical manuscript.

I can’t give you more information than that, but I can tell you that at times I was so enthralled by this book that I couldn’t imagine having done anything but read.  It’s a good thing it’s Christmas break, because I spent the majority of my last 3 days (including being up WAY too late last night finishing) reading it.  I related so deeply to the characters, especially to Rebecca, that I couldn’t stop.  If I’m being honest, I have a bit of a book hangover now that it’s finished and I blasted through 470 pages so quickly.  I’ve taken a break for most of today, though I may start the next adventure tonight.  Time will tell.

There wasn’t a lot of romance, though there was an element of that woven throughout the characters’ stories… but I appreciated the lack of romance in this one.  I really wanted the adventure and the history, and I sure got both.

This is my first Lynn Austin book, but if the rest of her historical fiction is as delightful as this was, I’ll certainly be back.

I was even more surprised and delighted to find that the story, while truly a work of fiction, is based on the lives of two real-life sisters.  I won’t give you any more detail than that, because to do so would give away important plot points, and I know you don’t want me to do that.  But I promise, when you get to the end of the book, you’ll want to read the very last page at the back that gives you the details of the real-life sisters that Lynn Austin based her work of fiction around.

“Join two incomparable sisters on adventures that span the decades and cross the globe.”

where we belong

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Book was provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc.

 

Fierce Hearted


I listened to this book as an Audio Book using my Audible membership, because I can knock them off in 3 days in the car.  It was a real treat to do it this way, actually, because Holley Gerth narrated the audio book and when you listen to a book narrated by the author, you get a real sense of the passion they had for what they wanted to communicate.  I’d started to read it in real life before bed, but then I also started doing an Advent devotional and I was finding I’d fall asleep before I got a chance to keep reading Fierce Hearted, so I got it in Audio Book format.

It was delightful.  It was a mix of personal anecdotes and stories, blended with Biblical truth, and infused (a nod to the Tea chapter — chapter 18) with humour, all aimed at helping women be fierce, brave, and exactly who God designed you to be.

Every day we struggle to find more freedom, joy and purpose. What if the solution isn’t trying harder or being better but embracing the fiercehearted woman already inside us?

A fiercehearted woman looks life in the face and says, “You can’t beat me.” She lives fully and loves bravely. She never gives in, never gives up, and never lets go. She dares to be who she is—imperfect and beloved.

In her most powerful and personal book yet, bestselling author, counselor and life coach Holley Gerth empowers and encourages women not simply through “how to” but by life-changing, heart-freeing “me too.” Join Holley on this journey to becoming a fiercehearted woman and discover what she did: the freedom and courage to embrace life, love, and faith to the fullest because your struggles can no longer hold you back.

You can tell that Holley Gerth has been involved in counseling and life coaching by the way she writes, asks questions, and invites her readers to dig deeper into what’s holding us back from being fierce and brave.  Since that’s one of the things I’m delving into in 2018 — becoming fierce, becoming brave — I highly recommend this book.  It’s an easy read with the personal stories Holley infuses into the Biblical truth and sage advice.

Are you ready to live fully and love bravely?  Start 2018 off with this book and be inspired to make a plan to do so.

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Book was provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc.

Here I Raise My Ebenezer


What do you think of when you hear the word Ebenezer?  Scrooge?  Charles Dickens?  Yeah, me too.  A miserable, grouchy old man who won’t be charitable for anything…. until the end of the story, of course, but the image sticks.

But in the last few weeks, it’s been popping up  around me, and none of those times were in the context of A Christmas Carol.  When that happens, I tend to listen, because I tend to wonder if maybe somebody somewhere might be trying to teach me something.

The first place I heard it was at work, of all places.  I teach English as a Second Language, and my case load is populated mostly by low German speaking Mennonite students.  Because of the prevalence of these students in one of my schools, the Christmas program is still pretty much the way I remember Christmas programs being when I was in elementary schools — about Christmas.  Now, don’t misunderstand me — I work in public schools, and I’m not about to go preaching that Christ is being ripped out of Christmas just because public schools don’t typically sing songs about Jesus at Christmas pageants anymore.  But at this school, because of the climate of the school, the kids do — because it’s what mostly everyone thinks and believes.  One of the classes I’m working in is singing an old hymn in low German at the Christmas concert.  I recognized it to hear them practicing, but because they’re singing in German (which to my dismay I do not speak), I couldn’t place it.  Thankfully, one of the boys was familiar with its English counterpart and was able to tell me that it’s “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing,” which has this as one of the verses:

Here I raise my Ebenezer
Here there by Thy great help I’ve come
And I hope, by Thy good pleasure
Safely to arrive at home
Jesus sought me when a stranger
Wandering from the fold of God
He, to rescue me from danger
Interposed His precious blood

First thought:  What does Ebenezer mean??  Being a person who loves words, I wouldn’t let that one go.  And even if I’d been tempted, the word kept coming back up anyway.

P.S. Fifteen middle schoolers singing Come Thou Fount in their first language?  Yeah, try not to choke up while they practice…. just try.

It came back again while listening to an Audio Book.  The thing with these schools is that they’re not really close at all to where I live in the city.  They’re quite rural, and they’re about an hour away from my house.  That means I spend two hours a day most days in my car.  That means I plow through Audio Books like nobody’s business.  Thank you, Audible!  So I was listening to Lara Casey’s “Cultivate What Matters” ahead of my PowerSheets prep for 2018 (this whole sentence will get a whole other post at the end of December…. wait for it……) and it came up again.  Lara Casey started talking about Ebenezer, and then she even sang that verse of Come Thou Fount in the audio book!  I just love it when audio books are read by their authors.  That brought the word slamming back to the forefront of my memory.  And if that didn’t solidify the need to look it up and figure this out, didn’t I drive past a church called Ebenezer Christian Reformed Church on my way to a Christmas party that night?

OK, I get it.  I have something to learn here.

If you read 1 Samuel 7, you read the story of the Israelites going out to do battle against the Phillistines while Samuel was making a burnt offering.  God sent them supernatural help — verses 10-12 say:

10 Just as Samuel was sacrificing the burnt offering, the Philistines arrived to attack Israel. But the Lord spoke with a mighty voice of thunder from heaven that day, and the Philistines were thrown into such confusion that the Israelites defeated them. 11 The men of Israel chased them from Mizpah to a place below Beth-car, slaughtering them all along the way.

12 Samuel then took a large stone and placed it between the towns of Mizpah and Jeshanah.[a] He named it Ebenezer (which means “the stone of help”), for he said, “Up to this point the Lord has helped us!”

Now, I’m not into slaughtering people, and I definitely believe that Jesus came in part so that we no longer need to do physical battle against each other.  That said, it’s pretty clear that God helped Israel here, and the Israelites can see that.  Samuel named a stone “The Stone of Help” for a reason.

Lara Casey writes a book using the metaphor of gardening to help us cultivate what matters into our lives (again, more at the end of December), and in it she encourages readers to find a stone, and literally put it into your garden or somewhere in your home as an Ebenezer.  A stone of help.  A reminder that the Lord is a helper to us.  A visual reminder that God is good.

The Lord is my helper.  The Lord is my Ebenezer.  Now I need to go find an actual, physical stone to put somewhere in my house to remind myself of this when the big feelings roll in.

Ebenezer means “stone of help.” From then on, every time an Israelite saw the stone erected by Samuel, he would have a tangible reminder of the Lord’s power and protection. The “stone of help” marked the spot where the enemy had been routed and God’s promise to bless His repentant people had been honored. The Lord had helped them, all the way to Ebenezer.

source

 

Gracelaced ~ a review


Ruth Chou Simons is an artist and author who has written a stunning devotional that takes you through different seasons of the heart.  The tag line is “Discovering timeless truths through seasons of the heart.”

I haven’t done any part of the devotional yet.  There’s a part of me that rebels against the idea that I could start with fall, when I got the book, since the devotional starts with winter, and I’m just particular that way.  I like to do things in order.  Who jumps around books out of order?  That’s madness!  (Apologies to those of you who’d have no problem with it.  I actually kind of admire you!  I just can’t live like that, haha.)  But I digress.  I am, however, planning to start it the day that fall gives way to winter, and enjoy every moment of it.  The artwork is spectacular, and there are plenty of places for reflection, deep thought, and responding.  There are also accompanying scripture references for you to be able to “delve deeper” into each topic — topics such as dwell, ask, broken, masterpiece, pruning, new, rejoice, forgive, held, light, and peace.  I’m very excited to go through this devotional.

I highly recommend that you also check out Ruth’s website — https://gracelaced.com/.  There you can find journals, note cards, and prints — all featuring this stunning artwork.  Some of it may or may not end up on my Christmas wish list…. I absolutely adore word art.

You can order the book here or on Amazon.  If you get it, I hope you’ll enjoy it as much as I know I’m going to!  The art alone is worth the buy — paired with scripture to match each season?  I’m in!

 

The Case for Christ | A Movie Review


Movies based on books.  Some of us love it, some of us hate it.  I, personally, have rarely read the book when they get turned into movies, so I’m fine with it.

The Case for Christ is another such example.  When I first became aware of the book, it sounded interesting enough, but I was already firmly a believer in Jesus based on what I’d learned growing up, and as a teenager I felt I had no need to read it…. because there were other things taking up my time.

Fast forward 15-20 years (I can’t really wrap my head around that, gosh…), and here I am, sitting writing a review on the movie version of the book.  Like I said, I haven’t read the book.  But I know many people who have.  I know many people for whom the book was life-changing.  Either that book, or many of Lee Strobel’s other books… perhaps I should read them?

But I digress, I’m here to review the movie.

The quote Strobel makes right at the beginning of the movie really hit me — “The only way to truth is through facts.  Facts are our greatest weapon against superstition, against ignorance, and against tyranny.”  Now, I was aware of the book going into watching the movie, and I knew that the movie was about a journalist’s journey from atheist to believer, and so I saw the quote as fantastic foreshadowing on the part of the writers.

What I didn’t know was that the whole journey — the whole reason Strobel set out to disprove the resurrection of Jesus in the first place — was because his wife had become a Believer after a near-death experience with their daughter, and he thought she’d lost it.  Naturally, since facts and reason are so important, he thought he could reason her out of it.

I learned a lot in this movie — facts I didn’t know existed.  It was very well done, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.  It’s proof to me that even the most staunch of objectors can come to faith, and it really highlighted something I’ve believed for years — that it also takes faith to not believe.  If you can look at all the evidence for the life, the death, and the resurrection of Jesus, and still not believe that He is who He says He is, then that takes faith too — faith that despite all the evidence suggesting otherwise, this simply isn’t true.  Personally, I’d rather put my faith in Jesus.

I hope you’ve either had a chance to catch this movie in theatres, or that you’ll see it now that it’s been released on video.  No matter where you are in your journey, I believe there’s something in this movie for everyone.

Screener link was provided courtesy of Mongrel Media and Graf-Martin Communication, Inc.

All Saints | A Movie Review


You can watch the trailer for this movie at http://www.allsaintsmovie.com/.

All Saints is a faith-based film put out by Sony and Provident Films that looks at the inspiring true story of a salesman turned pastor named Michael Spurlock.  He’s assigned to a small church in Smyrna, Tennessee, that has a regular attendance of about a dozen people.  His goal?  To get the building ready to be sold.  The building sits on a prime piece of land that developers would love to get their hands on.

The problem?  When he gets there, he finds that a group of Burmese refugees, along with the dozen or so people already at the church, really need the church, and he struggles with the idea that he has to just shut it down and let it be sold.

If I’m honest (which I try to be…), I’ll admit that I don’t typically enjoy Christian movies.  I often find them pretty cheesy, and not relatable.  But this…. This was a great movie.  It struck a chord with me personally, having been involved in helping Syrian refugees on their arrival in my city, and being someone who believes that profit isn’t everything — especially when it comes to the welfare of fellow human beings.  I think the timing of this movie is poignant — it should be out in theatres in the next couple weeks.  With what’s going on in the news and the world around me lately, it was sure lovely to watch what faith, loving like Jesus, perseverance, persistence, and trust can accomplish.

Maybe I’m just hearkening back to my love of My Big Fat Greek Wedding, but I also really enjoy John Corbett as an actor, so when I saw that he had the lead role, I figured it couldn’t be that cheesy.  I was pleasantly surprised, and I thoroughly enjoyed the movie.

To stay up to date about more Christian films, and when they’re arriving in Canada, check out faithfilms.ca

I was given a screener link to view this film courtesy of Graf-Martin Communications, Inc. in exchange for my honest review.