On Enjoying the Ordinary (Lent 2019)


Lent started today.  I’ve been historically terrible at observing Lent. It’s not a liturgical tradition I grew up practicing, but I can see its value, and I’ve picked something every year for the last several to give up, but my follow-through is admittedly not great.  There’s my confession for the day.

Back at the end of December, 2018, I picked a word for my year (as I do every year).  I picked “Present.”  It has occurred to me in the last little while that I am not exceptionally good at being present.  I’m not skilled at living in the moment I’m in, and I tend to be constantly looking toward the next fun thing.  The next big thing.  I suppose this is likely tied to my Enneagram number (7), but it was pointed out to me last night during a conversation about this very topic that we could all learn about this, and so it’s not likely exclusively a “7” experience.  The biggest places I notice it in my own life might be 7 experiences, but that doesn’t mean we can’t all learn from what I’m learning, so here it goes.

Present.  I looked it up.  I’m going to be SUPER cheesy and give you a dictionary definition.  Present:  in a particular place; existing or occurring now; the period of time now occurring.  I think the last one resonates most with me.  The period of time now occurring….. how often do I look toward the period of time coming up, and therefore miss the period of time now occurring?

I looked up some synonyms, too, because if you’ve been reading anything I’ve written for any length of time… or if you’ve had more than one conversation with me… you know I’m a language nerd and breaking down language is one of my favourite ways to understand anything. Some of my favourite synonyms — the ones that resonate with me the most — are as follows: accompanying, observing, participating, available, breathing.  There’s so much depth to these words, and forgive me while I nerd out hard here.

When I am not present, I am not any of those synonyms.  

I am not accompanying.  If I’m in a situation, but I’m focused on and thinking about what’s coming next, what will be more exciting, where I’d rather be, and what I’d rather be doing… I’m not with whoever I should be with.  If they want time from me, I’m not giving them all of it, even if I appear that I am.  It can be hard for me to sit in the present and not be drifting toward thinking about what comes next. 

I am not observing.  I miss things.  I miss important pieces of conversation.  I miss details and nuances.  I miss the minute.  And often, this means I miss the incredible that lies in the ordinary.  I’ll explain that further in a bit.

I’m not participating.  If I’m not present, even if it’s just in my spinny, spinny brain, I’m not fully participating.  And if I’m not fully participating in my life, am I even really fully living it?  If I’m out somewhere, and I’m a little bored, so I start scrolling through Facebook… what am I missing?  Who could I be talking to? Does Jesus have something for me in that moment that I miss because my face is staring down at my phone? If I’ve just come home from something and instead of enjoying the quiet, the down time, the chance to refresh and reboot… what do I miss? 

I’m certainly not available.  If I’m caught up in whatever comes next, as is my unfortunate tendency sometimes, then I’m not available.  Not when someone asks for my time, not to the task I’m trying to complete, not really even to myself.  When my brain is occupied elsewhere, I’m cheating those around me, but I’m also cheating myself.  It feels harmless to constantly envision how great the next fun thing is going to be, but I’m cheating myself out of that moment right then and there.  Out of how great THAT moment could be.

I’m not breathing.  Not literally.  I don’t literally stop breathing.  And as much as I love it when things are both literally and figuratively true, this is not one of those times.  But I’m finding more and more, especially the more self-aware and introspective I get (and there’s been a dramatic shift in that direction in the past year), that when I’m not present I’m instead rather frantic.  I’m stressed, I can’t focus on what I’m trying to do, I talk too fast, I rush, I miss things — both things I wanted to say and things I needed to hear, and I don’t do much all that well.  Perhaps I’m being too hard on myself.  Certainly this is an example toward the extreme end of my lack of presence, but it can be true nonetheless, and that’s why I’ve been working on it, and why I’ll continue to until I’m good at it.

What this looks like for me is a lot of time spent on my phone.  The literal second I get bored of something, I’m looking for something more fun to do, and so I wonder how many opportunities to interact with actual human beings I might miss while I spend my grocery store line time scrolling through Facebook on my phone.  But I don’t just do this while I’m standing in line.  Sometimes I do it while I’m watching TV, which means that I’m not really, truly, paying attention to either thing. I do it sitting in the car (parked) waiting for someone I’m picking up.  I do it in the airport waiting to board my plane. I do it if someone I’m with gets up to go get something or leaves to use the washroom. I do it in the staff room at lunch. In fact, had I not already been consciously trying to make a choice about this area, I’d have missed a conversation today at lunch about Lent and why it’s practiced and how so many people use it to diet.  I might not have chimed in.  I might not have shared what I intend to do over the next 40 days.  And I can’t know for sure, but maybe that would have been someone else’s loss.

And it’s not just my phone.  It’s not just Facebook.  I’m that person who has always been counting down to something.  Since I could count as a little kid, I’d have countdowns running, either written or just in my brain, to how many days it was until the next thing I was excited about. And what I’ve learned as I’ve gotten older is that not everybody does that.  That’s not a big deal, though… to learn that one of your quirks is unique to you, or unique to those similar to you. More importantly, it distracts me from the right here.  The right now.  The beauty of the ordinary.  What’s right in front of me.  I miss the fun of being able to enjoy my down time because it feels like it takes forever to get from Tuesday to Friday.  I miss the grandness of the ordinary spaces between Christmas and March Break because the second the plane lands after Christmas holidays, I’m wondering how long before I can go back to my parents, my brother, my sisters, my mountains, my waterfalls (though in theory I could find some waterfalls in Ontario, too….).  I miss the ordinary beauty of winter because I’m desperate for spring. Had I not been paying attention the other day, I’d have missed the hoarfrost on these trees.

Had I not been willing to go for a walk to pray and sit with my thoughts because I had some down time, I’d have missed this sunset. 

I end up missing the new growth of spring, if/when it ever arrives, because I’m mad at the mud and I’m desperate for heat.  Then when summer does finally arrive, I miss some of its ordinary beauty because I pack it so full of so many activities that I can’t sit and bask in its wonder… because I know it ends, and I dread its end, so I just must. keep. busy.  Must do it ALL before the snow comes again.

I’d grown tired of missing so much, so for 2019 I picked the word Present. That looks different for everyone (in fact, I found out recently that my mother also picked Present, but she’s using it differently). For me it definitely has to include a sense of delayed gratification and a sense of the ability to rest in where I am at any given moment.  Not just waiting for the next grand adventure and enthralling experience.  Because ordinary can be exciting, too.  It can.  If we let it.

So back to the point.  Lent 2019.  While I’ve not always given things up well, I like to try.  Back in the summer, I gave up sugar.  Quit it cold turkey.  I feel like if I can give up sugar (mostly) for 8 months, I can give something up for 40 days.  And if it’s anything like sugar, if I’m successful in giving it up, I won’t likely want it back.  But also if it’s anything like sugar, there will need to be some divine intervention to make me OK with it, and to help remind me of why I’ve decided to do it.

I was out for tea last night and was sharing that I was toying with the idea of deleting Facebook off my phone for Lent. Not giving it up entirely, still being able to check it from my computer (if I’m even on it), as it houses events, some groups I use frequently, and pictures of friends and family and their kids that I would miss if I didn’t see them every once in a while, since I don’t get to physically see the people as often as I’d like.  I like the idea of what Facebook can give us.  It’s not terrible in and of itself.  It can connect across thousands of kilometers.  Continent to continent.  One side of the country to the other.  But when the app version on my phone gets used to distract me from ever being bored, it takes away from my ability to be present.  It doesn’t fit with the goal of who I want to be by the end of 2019.  And, truthfully, when I spend that much time scrolling through it, it can be kind of toxic.  The politics, the ads, the Momo warnings, the “don’t eat this, it’ll kill you” and then the next day, the “how that very same food is the secret to living forever….” all of it.  It gets into my head and it unsettles me.  It rattles me.  It makes it hard to live a life that’s not stressed and anxious but rather is trusting and leaning on Jesus and patient.  It just seems that all the bad in the world is concentrated on my Facebook newsfeed and I’m not here for it anymore.  And so, over Peach Tranquility tea at Starbucks, we decided to do it together.  Forty days without a mobile Facebook app.  We deleted it then and there. 

And then, ten minutes later, when I was left alone at the table for a very brief amount of time, I immediately grabbed my phone and went to open the app to scroll….. and it wasn’t there.  It might be a long 40 days.
But I know that this, along with the other daily reminders to be present, be present, be present… I know that they will grow me.  They’ll stretch me, for sure.  But they’ll grow me. They’ll leave me a better person than I was before, because that’s always the goal.  More growth.  I’ve found it’s just a natural shift in desire that my brain wants so much, this idea of being present.  I’ve found that I hardly watch TV anymore — so much so that I’m contemplating *gasp* cancelling Netflix.  Who has time for TV when there are so many books?!  And if TV was just another thing to distract from wanting to move on to the next, better thing (which I strongly believe that it was), then I don’t really need that either. 

It’s better to do things in community, isn’t it? Many of the things I’ve done that have yielded really positive results in the last couple years have been done in community. Quit sugar? Sure, if a friend is going through it with me. Intentionally set life goals and plan for their execution? Sure, let’s buy the same workbook and talk about it as we go! Journal through Psalms? Done, as long as I’ve got someone to talk to about it. Remove Facebook from my phone? Yup, let’s delete it at the same time. So it would stand to reason, then, that not only is it better to do life together, and to work toward growth in community, but also that being present in those spaces is intrinsically valuable. When you’re present, you share life. And when you share life, get vulnerable, and get real, people come alongside you and hold you up.

My FitBit has the ability to buzz, via Bluetooth, whenever I get a notification through text, Messenger, What’s App, email, or my work email.  I know many people who never turned it on in the first place, but at first I really liked it.  I liked the ability to know what was happening without appearing to check my phone.  I liked the ability to decide whether or not to pull my phone out of my pocket to respond to the notification.  But I’ve been finding that all it does is distract me.  Mid-conversation, my phone buzzes and then a split second later, my FitBit buzzes on my wrist.  I then read whatever it is on my wrist, but by that point, I’ve either missed something someone was saying, or I’ve lost my train of thought and I have to ask whoever I’m talking to what I was saying.  So last night while I was out, when the first notification buzzed, I turned off the notifications from my wrist.  And low and behold, the world did not come to an end because I didn’t know what my texts said until I got home.  The universe did not implode because I didn’t see the first bit of the email Pinterest sent me to tell me a friend had sent me a pin. Can’t that wait?  Isn’t a deep conversation with a fellow human being better than that?  It was so freeing that I didn’t turn the notifications back on on my wrist when I got home.  And I didn’t turn them back on when I woke up this morning.  And I just might not turn them back on ever.  Time will tell.

And so, at the end of this first day of Lent, at the end of this first day of denying myself something so that I can focus more on Jesus as I start the descent into the Easter season, now I’m off to make a lunch for tomorrow and go to bed with a book instead of my phone. And every time I think about scrolling through Facebook, I’ll instead think about the wonderful ways God has blessed my life, and the wonderful things I have to attend to right in that moment.  Because that’s what Lent is for — a time to focus on growing in God, not just making a new, healthy life choice for forty days. A time to lean in to just a little bit of the suffering that Jesus endured for me so that I can have relationship with Him. So that I can lean on Him. So that I can trust Him to help me be Present.

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Made for the Journey: One Missionary’s First Year in the Jungles of Ecuador


This book holds some kind of funky timing for me. I’m a firm believer that sometimes books find you exactly when they need to, even if you’ve been in possession of them for a while. Sometimes you pick them up right at the right moment. I think this was one of them.

I was sent this book to review it, which always makes me happy. Further, it’s non-fiction, which tends to be what I gravitate toward most of the time. Even when I find myself on a fiction run, I always go back to my deep, thought-provoking non-fiction.

Anyway, I received this book at the end of December 2018. I have until February 28, 2019 to finish and review it. I didn’t take it out West with me on vacation over Christmas, and I’ve taken my sweet time getting it and my other two reviews finished. I realize it’s only February 2nd so I still have time, but I digress.

I read half of Made for the Journey while I was off work a couple weeks ago recovering from surgery, and it was a little heavy for that particular time in my life so I put it aside.

I picked it back up yesterday though, and it’s remarkable to me how perfectly the end of this book applies to what I’ve been learning about in church this week. I wish I’d read it before home church on Thursday. Whoops!

Anyway, it’s a memoir written by Elisabeth Elliot, author of a number of books. She was an American missionary to Ecuador in the 1950s as well as a speaker and author. She writes about her first year as a missionary to the Quichua people near Quito and San Salvador (in the book she refers to them as the Colorados, but I’ve learned through a bit of my own research that that’s the name this group of people was given by the Spanish and it means “coloured red….” so I think I’ll opt for the more traditional one I found. I hope it’s right!)

It is written as though you were sitting and listening to Elliot give a presentation of her time. Part of me wishes there were pictures, but she described everything in such efficient detail that even as someone who has a hard time picturing what’s happening in books, I often felt as though I could see what she’d seen.

What she’d seen was dramatically different from the life she’d left in Pennsylvania, and I can’t say that I think I’d be tough enough to handle it. I like to think that I am, but deep down I fear I’m probably not as tough as Elisabeth Elliot was. She’s a woman to be respected and admired, that is for sure! The lengths to which she and several other friends/fellow missionaries went to to bring the Bible to a people group with no written language of their own was both inspiring but also heartbreaking. The trials of every day life living in the jungle were taxing and arduous, but it seems as though they managed.

I am not doing this justice, at all, I’m afraid. But I do highly recommend this book. Where it really hit home for me was the connection I feel I can now make between how Elliot wraps up the book, talking about some of the things that just fell apart for her. It felt like a lament to me. At my church, we’ve been studying a few Psalms in a series called Honest to God about praying from the Psalms. Last week’s message was based in Psalm 89, where Ethan, the author of this Psalm, basically calls God out for seeming broken promises that he sees all over the place. We talked about how we can’t see the end of what God is doing, but if you look through the rest of the Bible, you see that every promise Ethan was upset about, God had later fulfilled. It just hadn’t happened yet. Some of the language that Elliot uses to talk about some of the things that went very terribly near the end of the book sounds like she understood that lament is not equal to rebellion, and that she could be confused and angry and hurt and upset, but still trust that God is in control and knows what He’s doing.

This book was previously published as “These Strange Ashes” and there is a reference in this version that talks about that.

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

Deep Thoughts…. (this is not a book review)


As tends to be the case, I get a wee bit introspective right before I get on an airplane. I jet off tomorrow to rejoin my family in the great land of the Canadian West, and I’m thrilled.

School ended today. And by ended, I definitely mean took a hiatus until January 7th. So there’s that. And that never really feels real until about 3:30 pm the day it happens. So we’re four hours out and it feels real now.

I’m packed, my bags are by the door. I’ve unpacked and repacked my carry-on approximately 6 times, in 2 different bags, trying to make it fit the best and avoid having to leave the camera behind. One does not travel to the Rocky Mountains without a camera (or if they do I just don’t understand). My suitcase is done with the exception of the toothbrush and toothpaste that I will still need tonight, and by some Christmas miracle managed to come in not only under the 50 pound limit, but under FOURTY pounds…. on the first try…. I didn’t have to repack it one single time! I don’t believe this has ever happened before.

The dog is at her home away from home and my house feels empty, but I know she’s well taken care of.

And lastly, I’ve convinced myself that the dream I had earlier this week about having to land the airplane on the Saskatchewan River was utter nonsense, and I’ve shoved my passport in my purse and I’m ready to get up at 3:45 am (that’s not true. I’m never ready for that. I’m theoretically ready, but not emotionally haha).

But I’ve been having some deep thoughts these past couple of weeks. I’ve just been amazed at how powerful our brains are. At all of the processes that run seemingly without thought in the background and we don’t have to “think” about it.

If you’re reading this without breaking down the chunks of each word and having to use what you know about letters and sounds, blends, diphthongs, digraphs, and ridiculous English vowel rules (yes, I teach English for a living, you caught me haha), then your brain is running so many automatic processes. I got the chance earlier in the week to do a read-aloud to a couple of classes. It’s been a while since I’ve been able to do that because I’m in more of a support role and I just don’t get the opportunity that often. So when the classroom teacher I was working with asked if I wanted to read The Grinch for the activity she was running so that she could watch and assess her kids, I was thrilled to. Now, I know the story of the Grinch. But that didn’t change the fact that my brain knows what to do with the letters, the punctuation, the stresses, and the tone with which the story needed to be presented. How cool is reading!? Writing is much the same way. I don’t have to think about many words anymore, and the structures that form good sentences come pretty naturally. Our brains are incredible! I just wish I knew how to bottle this skill up and find an easy way to deliver it to the kids I support and teach. Anyway, I’m rambling.

But we’re all so different. Where I am amazed by my brain’s ability to read quickly; play the piano using only guitar chords, which to many people look like random letters on a page; play the violin without looking at music; and type without looking at the keyboard while carrying on a conversation (this blows 5th graders’ minds, you should try it sometime!), other people may not have these automatic processes nailed down but can mentally solve math problems or have incredible spatial reasoning skills. They can picture something in their minds and draw it (well — that’s where this skill loses me :p ). They can look at something and innately understand how it works.

Our brains are so cool!

I’m so thankful that our brains are so incredible, and that God has given each of us something that we’re great at and that runs seemingly effortlessly in the background.

I listened to a talk once, I can’t remember where. But it was called something along the lines of Everyone is Incredible at Something. It’s so true. You and I may not have the same skill sets, but we each have something wonderful to offer. It reminds me of the passage in 1 Corinthians 12 that talks about the body having many parts, and that each part is important because what would our bodies be like if we were all hands? I love how diverse humanity is.

Does your brain ever blow its own mind? (haha that sentence sounds ridiculous….) Are you ever amazed at the things you’re able to do without thinking about them first? If you’ve never thought about it, I encourage you to give it some thought. What are you incredible at that not everyone is? What do you bring to the table that the world needs? And if you follow Jesus, how are you using those things to give Him all the Glory?

Merry Christmas! I hope you’ve enjoyed this episode of Deep Thoughts with Laura.

It’s Okay Not to be Okay


This book hit me kind of hard.  There were many, many nuggets of wisdom throughout.  Written by Sheila Walsh, this is an author who can drive very important points home in a way that sinks in, but does so without alienating the reader and making you feel judged or condemned.

Taglined “Moving forward one day at a time” this book was full of wisdom and tips to lean into our hard parts in life and really embrace who we are in God.

We’ve all experienced that moment where we wish we could start all over again. Failed marriages, lost friends, addictions, lost jobs. This is not the life we imagined. Yesterday can sometimes leave us stuck, sad, shamed, scared, and searching. Sheila Walsh encourages readers to face the pain head on and then start again, from right where they are. She shares that when she discovered “I’m not good enough and I’m good with that,” everything started to change.

In It’s Okay Not to Be Okay, Walsh helps women overcome the same old rut of struggles and pain by changing the way they think about God, themselves, and their everyday lives. She shares practical, doable, daily strategies that will help women move forward one step at a time knowing God will never let them down.

There are many quotable parts of this book, and I wish I could share them all with you, but that wouldn’t be fair to Sheila Walsh because she’d have written a book that no one who read my review will buy, haha.

 

But here are a few:

“Think about it for a moment. How many times do you feel like you’re not enough?  It makes me wonder were we got the idea of what “enough” is.” (p. 22)

“It’s okay not to be okay because we’re not home yet.
It’s okay not to be enough because God doesn’t ask us to be.” (p. 24 — whoa…. this is a point that was hammered home throughout the book and it has the potential to be SO freeing!)

“It might feel more ‘Christian’ not to bring our anger, pain, or disappointment to God, but I believe it’s actually the antithesis of a real relationship with Christ.  We become a little less authentic with every experience we bury.” (p. 40)

“We’re not perfect, but we are redeemed, so give yourself a break.” (p. 70)

 

I won’t quote any more, because most of the profound wisdom I have underlined and have drawn arrows to in the book are more powerful when kept in context of the stories Walsh uses to illustrate her points.

Filled with scriptures, this book will settle into your hurt places, and, if you let it, it might convince you to open yourself up to the idea that it’s ok not to be ok, and we were never meant to be enough.

I encourage you to check this book out.  It wiggled its way right into the core of me and whispered soft, comforting words to a heart that needed to hear them.

(As an aside, I read this book a little differently than I’ve read others.  I have a long commute and a subscription to unlimited audio books, so I listened to it while driving, but then to really sink in the points, every day when I got home I read through the chapters I’d listened to that day and underlined everything that stuck out.  So essentially, I read the book twice.  I actually really enjoyed doing it this way because listening to Sheila read this book was like having a deep conversation with a good friend.  Plus, her Scottish accent is great fun to listen to!)

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

Battle Ready


Train your mind to conquer challenges, defeat doubt, and live victoriously.

That’s the tagline for this book by Kelly Balarie.

I loved reading this book.  It’s so practical and gives a wonderful toolbox to help when your mind gets crowded with doubt and fear.

Too often we fail to prepare for our battles. So when challenges, troubles, or opportunities arise, we rapidly become burdened with limiting thoughts of self-doubt, fear, impossibility, and lack. But it doesn’t have to be this way. We can train our minds to conquer uncertainty, beat insecurity, and step past the tragedies of yesterday.

Battle Ready is a hands-on scriptural plan that teaches you twelve easy-to-implement, confidence-building mind-sets designed to transform your thoughts and, therefore, your life. You’ll gain practical wisdom, like how to

· make new habits stick in just five steps
· disarm the seven most common attacks that plague women
· exchange self-limiting thoughts for purpose-driven, love-releasing thoughts
· implement thirty-second mind-lifters that deliver peace
· create boundaries so you live life full of what matters

You can live victoriously.

And when a couple of authors that I’ll read again and again have good things to say about a book printed right on the back cover, you know it’s one you need to pick up.

“The most difficult fights we will face in this life will be within our own hearts and minds. Battle Ready will help encourage, empower, and equip you to live in true victory.”–Holley Gerth, bestselling author of Fiercehearted

“The best time to be strengthened against the Enemy’s tactics of doubt, disappointment, and devastation is before he makes his first move toward us. We all desperately need the biblical guidance and preparation found in Battle Ready!”–Lysa TerKeurst, New York Times bestselling author and president of Proverbs 31 Ministries

What I loved most about this book was its practicality.  It’s not just a bunch of words aimed at you, telling you what to do.  It’s a guide that walks you through questions, plans, and reflections to help you decide how you’re going to reorient your mind.  Balarie compares our minds to a Smart Phone, talking about how we can use it to its full potential or we can let it use us, essentially.  What’s surprising about this book, though, is that although it’s powerful and deep, it’s a well-written and accessible approach to becoming battle ready.  Usually, books that tackle these heavy topics are as equally heavy as their topic, but that is not so with this book.  Kelly Balarie manages to pack powerful, practical, important advice and learning into a light, easy read, and I really appreciate that.

I highly encourage this book.  And I highly encourage you to take the time to really reflect on what you’re learning and to fill in the various places Kelly gives you to write, or think, or stop to pray.  Doing the work will help solidify the principles you’ll learn as you read.  There are also questions for group discussion at the end of each chapter so that if you’re like me, and you’re tempted to gather a few friends to read through this together and really dig in, the work is done for you without having to buy a separate study guide.  I really appreciate that, as well.

Another thing I loved was the idea of sowing and reaping.  I’ve never thought of this concept in quite such a way as the way Kelly lays it out in this book.  The thoughts we sow reap varying outcomes.  We can train our thoughts, and therefore we can impact the outcomes of our thoughts.  Isn’t this a cool idea?  We can be freer from our inner critics and our comparisons and judgments of ourselves and others.

I particularly enjoyed the way this was framed.  This isn’t a “must-do” step-by-step process, but rather we’re offered 12 “Warrior Mindsets” to help shift the way we think so that we’re ready for anything.  I love the idea of being a warrior in the fight against the enemy that can and does wiggle into my brain.  I’m very thankful for this book.

Also check out www.iambattleready.com for even more resources to accompany this book!

Check it out here, on Amazon.ca.

battle ready

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

Fake Or Follower: Refusing to Settle for a Shallow Faith


I was asked to be a part of the Canadian Launch Team for this book, Fake or Follower, by Andi Andrew.  The description of the book sounded like exactly what’s been on my heart for my own walk with Jesus in the last little while.  Discipleship.  My church has been placing a pretty big focus on it as well — how do we walk with Jesus?  And so it’s been settling into some long-ignored places, and I like it.  Naturally then, when the chance to help get this book off its feet came into my inbox, I jumped at it.

There was a lot that I really liked about this book.  And I think it’s safe to say that anything I didn’t like was a reaction to my being deeply convicted about the words that Andi Andrew laid out on the pages.

Through this book you’ll walk through thoughts on being consumer Christians, on church hopping, on living as part of the culture around us in a way that no one would recognize that we’re different except for the occasional Sunday morning appearance inside a church.  You’ll read about community — how essential it is to a healthy Christian life, what that looks like, and what it doesn’t.  Learn and dig into where your identity is based.  Do you reflect Jesus?  This section was very challenging for me.

We love because we were loved first.  And love is more than a feeling.  I’m sure we’ve all heard this before, but it sunk in for me in a bit of a different way this time around.  What I really liked about this chapter though was the reminder that love raises the standard by which we live our lives.  Being loved doesn’t mean I have license to sin because I have grace.  This is by far the biggest argument against grace I hear from people struggling to wrap their heads and hearts and minds around the grace and goodness of God and Jesus.  “But doesn’t that mean you can just do what you want?”  No, because I’m loved in a way that makes that makes me not want to go back to what I’ve been saved from.  Andi Andrew has just given me words for an age-old question.

I was both challenged and encouraged by this book, often at exactly the same time.  Andrew uses humour and straight to the punch truth to get her point across in a way that I could really appreciate.  I highly recommend this book.  I also recommend that you take the time to dig into the reflection questions at the end of each chapter.  I’m often of the mindset that I want to “finish the book as quickly as I can,” usually because I’m pushing a review deadline, but you’ll learn about yourself as you dig into the questions.

I’m glad to know who Andi Andrew is now, and I’m thrilled to have been a part of this launch team.  The book came out October 2nd, so you can now buy it in lots of places that books are sold!  My preference is, of course, Amazon, but check your favourite book retailer to get your own copy.

 

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

Grace Like Scarlett


Hi, friends:

For this particular book review I’ve invited a dear friend into the process.  When the title and description for Grace Like Scarlett popped into my email inbox, I knew exactly who this book was meant to end up with.  My friend Rachel has experienced miscarriage, and as a result has a great deal of empathy as well as a passion for supporting grieving families by partnering with an organization called Hope Boxes.

I trust that Rachel’s words will mean far more than mine ever could, so I invite you to read a guest post by Rachel.

Grace Like Scarlett: Grieving with Hope After Miscarriage and Loss

The statistics are staggering… 1 in 4 women will experience a miscarriage in their lifetime.

This is my story:

April 1, 2013 – A day of complete and utter joy with the phone call that we were indeed pregnant after 5.5 years. I can remember pinching myself just to be sure it was real. He is Elohim, the Lord our creator!

May 1, 2013 – Another day that I will never forget. ..that moment when, at 8 weeks, you hear your baby’s first heartbeat. Without a doubt, THE most precious sound…a sound I was beginning to think I would never hear. He is El Hanne’eman, the Lord is faithful!

May 29, 2013 – 12 week ultrasound day. The day anyone in our shoes would look forward to but yet a day that is etched in our minds forever, one where we saw our tiny precious baby….lifeless in my womb. He is El Elyon, the Lord who is sovereign over all things!

June 6, 2013 – The day our baby’s tiny, tiny body was surgically removed from my womb and discarded, yet a day that serves as such a reminder that Jaiden is with Jesus – heart beating strong, completely healed and whole. He is Jehovah-rapha, the Lord who heals!

Cautious and excited summed up how I felt about diving into this book. My cautiousness came from understanding that grief is deep and not linear. Even though five years have passed, there are elements of my grief journey that come up in unexpected ways. I knew this book would be one I couldn’t put down but needed to in order to digest the content and to let the author’s words soak deep down into my soul. I didn’t expect just how healing it would be. This book is a gift! I cannot recommend it enough.

Adriel shares a moving, personal narrative of how her family suffered pregnancy loss and how they walked their grief journey with hope.

The excited part (for me) came in how this book resource could be used as an encouragement to other women who have experienced loss. God has graciously allowed a friend of mine and I to start a ministry that reaches out to families who are walking through pregnancy and infant loss. We make Hope Boxes** that are full of book resources and personal care items to help women know they are seen during a most difficult time in their life. Though Grace Like Scarlett is primarily geared toward the grieving mother herself, Adriel has included a wonderfully written letter from her husband to grieving dads, along with ways to remember your baby, how to talk about loss to other children in the family, pregnancy after loss, and caring for a friend after a miscarriage. Each part has been written beautifully and with much grace navigating such a “taboo” grief that many women suffer with in silence.

Each chapter is so raw and real, and yet so full of the Hope of Jesus Christ and His presence during our darkest moments. She shares her faith in way that is so healing, constantly reminding the reader that God is so very grieved by their loss, and that not for a moment does He forsake us.

You don’t need to be facing loss to read this book. There’s a good chance you have walked, will walk, or are currently walking with a friend or family member through the loss of a child. That’s reason enough to take time to read through this book. One of the things Adriel shares about relationship after loss:

“Relationships after loss can feel a bit like Thistle Cove: ugly and beautiful. They hurt and they help. Sometimes you feel deserted, while other times you are spontaneously healed in their embrace.”

She shares things that were said that were hurtful to her and even includes a variety of other short paragraphs of hurt other women experienced after the loss of a child. Her challenge to the grieving mom toward those who cause hurt is “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Most often people don’t know how to respond or act around anyone who is grieving, and while that can sometimes cause us to keep grief to ourselves, Adriel reminds the reader that, “Community can hurt, but it can heal even deeper.”

Speaking from my own experience, the ministry of presence is a powerful thing for a family whose world has just turned upside down. Continuing to keep that contact and realizing that you won’t be able to take away the pain they are feeling, but to just keep close with your “I’m thinking of you”, or “You’re on my heart today” texts or call means everything. I promise.

At the end of each chapter there is a journal prompt that is designed to take the reader into working through some aspects of their own journey and truly putting words where there may be none. I didn’t take the time to do this as I read to review, but plan to go back and look at them more in-depth with my next read through.

There’s so much more I want to say about this book, because it exposed the Light of Christ again to some spaces that are still dark for me, but I shall stop writing and just wholeheartedly encourage you to get a copy for yourself (or give one to a friend who is grieving)! I finished the book almost a month ago but have found it hard to sit down and write because I feel as though I’ve felt much of what Adril shared but literally didn’t have the eloquent and raw writing ability to put it all together as beautifully as Adriel has.

This book is one that I know I will read over and over, because there’s just that much soul food to digest!

Thank you to my friend Laura (and Baker Books) for connecting me with a copy of Grace Like Scarlett by Adriel Booker in exchange for a guest review on her blog.  Book was provided courtesy of Graf-Martin Communications, Inc. and Baker Publishing Group.

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https://www.gracelikescarlett.com/

**To learn more about Oxford Brant Hope Box or to request a Hope Box, please connect with me here: http://www.facebook.com/oxfordbranthopebox

Click here to buy the book on Amazon

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.

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.

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