March 2021 Book Stack

Hey Friends!

How is it possibly April already? This year seems to be flying by (maybe because time seemed to be crawling this time last year? Who know!). In any case, we just finished our Spring Break and the Heath Fam is ready to be DONE with school! Six more weeks… we can do this!

My book stack for March has a lot of variety. Two books came from my local used bookstore, one I have owned for nearly 30 years, and one I couldn’t wait to order from Amazon! They are all different lengths and genres; two are fiction and two are non-fiction. So this should be fun! 

Which leads to our first book…

That Sounds Fun by Annie F. Downs

If you listen to Annie’s podcast (also titled That Sounds Fun), you will likely hear her voice in your head as you read this! She has the type of personality that makes you feel like you are friends even though you’ve never met, and that comes through in her writing as well. Each chapter felt like I was sitting across the table from her as she told me her stories!

The main thread she weaves through each chapter is the concept of “missing Eden;” of being created for a perfect world in which we have complete joy and constant communion with our Father, yet living in an imperfect, fallen world that includes pain and sadness. The distance between the two worlds creates a tension in us; a longing for what we were made for, a desire for something our souls miss… Eden. Thus, her stories include things that make her sad and things that bring her joy, and in many cases, which do both. But always with a glimpse of Eden thrown in!

This book is much like having a conversation with a friend (especially an enneagram 7, LOL!)— it’s a little unorganized and has a bunch of random comments thrown in to make you laugh— but that’s all part of what makes it so fun! I especially recommend this book to my single friends, as Annie is so vulnerable in sharing her struggles and successes in that part of her journey. I am confident she will be a great encouragement to you!

How To Listen to God by Charles Stanley

This book is a classic. I am always surprised to find so many of my Christian friends have never read it! It was published in 1985, but I first read in the mid 90’s, shortly after I graduated from college. 

Everyone wants to hear from God, right? Yet, so many of us don’t want to take the time to listen, and even if we do, we may not know how to listen. That’s where this book comes in! The chapters are well organized, and the content is easy to understand. Dr. Stanley shares why God speaks to us, how to discern His voice, and how to prepare our hearts and minds to hear Him (among other things).

This is a relatively short, simple to understand book on an extremely important subject. It is especially beneficial for new believers or anyone who is serious about following Jesus. Charles Stanley has remained a voice of Biblical truth throughout the decades, and I am grateful for how his words have shaped my faith over the years!

The One Safe Place by Tania Unsworth

I grabbed this book from the used bookstore mostly based on the cover. The summary declared it a “near-future dystpia” and compared it to The Giver. While I was not nearly as drawn into the storyline or characters as I was with The Giver, I still think it would be enjoyable for middle grade readers!

After the death of his grandfather, Devin makes his way alone into the city looking for someone to help him run their farm. Several days into his journey, while navigating the dangerous chaos of the city streets, he teams up with a homeless girl, Kit, who helps him find food and seek shelter during a torrential rainstorm. From there, he befriends an older boy who offers to take him to a special home for abandoned children where there is everything a child could dream of— food, safety, playgrounds, swimming pools, and more. Devin agrees to go only if Kit can go with him, and their adventure continues.

It turns out there is something very sinister going on at the home. The children are being used somehow to bring joy to “the visitors,” but no one wants to talk about it. Before long, Devin uncovers the secret and hatches a plan to free them all.

The plot was fairly predictable, though a middle grade reader might still find it suspenseful. Also, we learn early on (a little awkwardly, in my opinion) that Devin has a special ability which connects all his senses (for instance, he feels colors). This becomes a contributing factor towards the end of the book, but it felt forced, as though the author was trying to create something unique instead of just having him be really smart. I’m afraid it might be a little confusing to kids who are reading it; they may waste time trying to figure out why those sentences are in there instead of just enjoying the book. By the end, though, it all makes sense. 

Beyond that, it was an enjoyable story with several really kind, likeable characters (and a sideline redemption story). It has the potential for creating some good conversation on ethical dilemmas associated with aging. I don’t think Eli (7th grade) would like this story too much, but I think Noah (5th grade) would probably enjoy it!

The Winter Palace by Eva Stachniak

As I mentioned, my latest trip to our local used book store was very productive; this is the other one I grabbed. It is historical fiction, this time set in Russia in the 1700’s, which is a time period I know almost nothing about. The hook is that it is told from the viewpoint of a spy in the palace, which was so intriguing! I really enjoyed it!

Our narrator, Barbara/Varvara, begins the story as a young teenage girl, brought to the palace upon the death of her parents as a favor to her father. Throughout the pages, she weaves a beautiful yet tragic tale of a queen who stole the throne and lives in constant fear of losing it, her foolish (and a bit crazy) nephew who is heir to the throne, his kind and naïve (or so we think) wife, and others who come in and out of life at the palace. It is a tale of love, hate, passion, betrayal, friendship, deception, and above all, lust for power. It was not a quick read, but it was quite enjoyable, and there were several unexpected twists along the way, which I love.

If you are a fan of historical fiction and are interested in a glimpse of the behind the scenes workings of Russian palace life, this one is worth reading!

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I told you there was a lot of variety! And I am already a couple books into my April stack, so get ready for more great suggestions! If you missed them, you should check out my January and February Book Stack posts for more ideas on what to read. 

As always, I love to hear your recommendations. What books are you loving these days? What’s on your nightstand?

Change How You Parent: Fear or Faith?

Photo by James Coleman on Unsplash

Do you ever find yourself wondering what in the world to do with your child? 

After all, you’ve done your best to raise them right. You prayed for them, taught them manners, and helped them memorize Bible verses. You limited their electronic time and said no when they begged to watch non-age-appropriate TV shows (darn you, Hannah Montana!).

But still, their hearts are captivated by the world… 

And nothing you do can change that.

They want to wear the same clothes their friends are wearing and listen to the same music. They want to play the same video games, watch the same You-tubers, and follow the same “influencers.” Like every adolescent since the beginning of time, they want to be liked and accepted by their peers, even if that means doing things they know are wrong.

If you’re fortunate, they at least struggle with the conflict between these desires and their values. That means deep down they at least want to do the right thing… they want to choose Jesus. But sometimes that struggle can lead to anxiety or loneliness or friend drama. 

What’s a parent to do?

It is really hard to watch our kids walking that line between right and wrong, tip-toeing as close as they can to the dark without actually falling in. Jeff and I have encountered these types of struggles on multiple occasions with our children, so I feel your pain.

Jeff is better about seeing the big picture, but if I’m honest with you, I pretty much tend to freak out. I’m afraid they are going to ruin their life. I’m afraid they are going to walk away from Jesus. I’m afraid they are going to become everything I have invested so much time and energy guarding against!

I’m just plain afraid. And I begin to parent out of fear.

PARENTING OUT OF FEAR

Sure, I call it all kinds of things: 

  • parenting with purpose
  • being intentional
  • maybe even being a little “controlling.” 

But the truth is, it’s fear

Yet, the Bible declares, “God did not give us a spirit of fear, but of power, love, and a sound mind.” (2 Timothy 1:7)  I memorized this verse a long time ago, but God whispered it to my heart a few years ago, and it completely changed the way I parent. Here’s what happened.

image from womanofgod.com

Our daughter, Abby, has always been into the latest trends. When she was two, she would go into the indoor playground at Chick-fil-a and come out a few minutes later modeling other children’s shoes. She would stop complete strangers on the street to comment on their cute outfits. (If you know me, you are asking where in the world she inherited that from… definitely not her momma!) In Kindergarten, her free-writing journal was filled with lyrics from Hannah Montana songs, which she wasn’t even allowed to watch or listen to yet!

Yes, our sweet girl’s heart was drawn by the world from a very early age. 

As she entered the middle school years, the pressure to fit in and be accepted by the “cool kids” increased. She hated being one of the few girls without a phone, and though she still obeyed me, she thought my “modesty” rules were old-fashioned and ridiculous. We clashed often during those days; Abby, with her teenage hormones raging, and me, with my authority being challenged and my fear increasing at every turn. 

My prayer journal is filled with desperate pleas for God to protect her and change her and not let her go astray. I constantly cried to Jeff about the path she was on and where it would lead. I was so afraid (and a little bit dramatic).

Now, understand, our girl was hardly a rebel! But after so many years in youth ministry, I was extra sensitive to the beginning stages of a wandering heart, and while she wasn’t even out of the living room, my mind saw her riding off into the sunset. It sounds ridiculous even as I type it, but it’s true. 

Do you do that, too? Imagine the worst-case scenario right out of the gate?

Anyway, one night as I was praying for Abby, crying out to Him again in all my fear, the Lord spoke to me very clearly. No, I didn’t hear an audible voice, but the impression on my heart was so strong, it could only be the Holy Spirit. This is what He said:

“Yes, Abby’s heart is drawn by the world, but whose isn’t? You are focusing on the wrong thing. She has had multiple opportunities to join the cool kids, but when it came down to it, she wasn’t willing to compromise her convictions. She may stumble a little along the way, but she almost always makes the right choice! So quit focusing on what you’re afraid of and focus on ME. The whole world is already fighting against her… she needs YOU to fight for her. Are you going to keep parenting out of FEAR or are you going to start parenting out of FAITH?”

I knew immediately what I had to do. Viewing the situation from God’s perspective completely transformed my mind and changed the way I parent (or at least try to).

So when you find yourself in a situation where you are tempted to parent out of fear, let me encourage you to parent out of faith instead. 

PARENTING OUT OF FAITH

How do we do that? Here are three things that help me:

1. Change how we PRAY for them

Instead of praying out of fear, I pray in faith. I claim God’s promises for her. I remind myself of His plan for her life, of His faithfulness through the generations. I ask Him to give her courage, faith, and boldness. I pray for her to be a Light in a dark generation, that He might use her in mighty ways! I ask Him to surround her with godly adults who love Him and will help shape her into the woman He created her to be—and He has! 

Do I still bring Him my fears when they surface? Absolutely! I need to, for He is the only One who can give me peace. But I’ve learned His power is only released in our lives through prayers of faith, not fear. “Truly I tell you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed… nothing will be impossible for you.” (Matthew 17:20)

Do I still bring Him my fears when they surface? Absolutely! I need to, for He is the only One who can give me peace. But I’ve learned His power is only released in our lives through prayers of faith, not fear.

KELLY CALLEN HEATH

2. Change how we THINK about them

Our thoughts determine our actions. What I’ve learned in parenting, though, is how much my thoughts actually determine my children’s actions! By parenting out of fear, I may actually be creating a self-fulfilling prophecy in my child. When we reflect our fears on them, they may internalize them and think that is what we expect of them. Therefore, changing the way we think can actually have a direct effect on how they act!

For me, this meant stopping myself from worrying about where Abby was headed, and instead reminding myself of what God has planned for her life. It meant focusing on the times she got it right more than on the times she didn’t, on her victories more than her failures. I continually thanked God for the times she did the hard thing, reminding myself of His strength and goodness in her life. 

And I began to speak these things out loud to her, which is the next tip.

Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash

3. Change how we SPEAK to them

I cannot emphasize enough the difference it made when I began speaking to Abby in faith instead of out of fear! As I pointed out her courage to hold to her convictions, she began to make those decisions more confidently. I touted character traits I wasn’t yet seeing in her as though she was already displaying them, and before long, she was! 

If you want your daughter to show courage, compassion, and kindness, tell her you love those things about her, and point out ways God can use those traits in her life. If you want your son to have integrity, character, and resourcefulness, make a point of recognizing those qualities in him and mentioning them every chance you get. 

Changing how I spoke to Abby enabled God to transform how she sees herself.  She no longer sees herself through my fear, but as God sees her—as His “handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which He prepared in advance for (her) to do.” (Ephesians 2:10) 

WE GET TO DECIDE…

I am pretty certain that had I continued parenting out of fear, Abby would have continued resisting me and would probably not be the awesome Jesus-girl she is today. That doesn’t mean it would have been my fault—she is still free to make her own choices—but I definitely was not helping the situation. 

And even parenting in faith doesn’t guarantee a positive outcome; there are no magic formulas for producing perfect kids! In fact, even while writing this blog post, the enemy is whispering that just because it helped one kid doesn’t mean it will help the others. 

But I no longer listen to the voice of fear…

Friend, we can parent out of fear of who our children might become, or we can change our perspective and parent in faith of who God desires them to be. 

Both will shape them…

But we get to decide which one!

IF YOU ENJOYED THIS POST, CHECK OUT THESE OTHER BLOG POSTS ON THE RELATED TOPIC OF CHANGE:

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Make the Change: How to Start a Business from Home

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So Much Change

Asking for Help: Why it’s Hard, Why We Should, and How to Do it

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Want to know my dirty little secret?

Well, actually it’s my clean little secret… 

We pay someone to clean our houseShhhh!!

I know, I know, some of you are highly disappointed—you were hoping for something a little more scandalous! But others of you definitely gasped when you read that. Some of you shook your head in disappointment, and some of you actually breathed a sigh of relief (because now you know you’re not the only one!).

It’s silly, really; but I can count on one hand the people who know we have housecleaning help (or at least I did until now, LOL). It’s just not something I tell people. 

Part of me feels embarrassed, like my “Supermom” status is at stake because I need help mopping my floors. Another part of me feels ashamed for getting assistance with something like cleaning. And part of me feels guilty—for putting our mess on someone else, for splurging on something I could do myself, and even for having enough money to pay someone when so many people are struggling.

But the truth is, I need help. I have my share of gifts; unfortunately, cleaning is not one of them. I can do it, (and with six people in our family I obviously still do!) but I don’t do it well. And I don’t like it. As hard is it was to ask for help, it has made a huge difference for our family.

When is the last time you asked someone for help? Was it hard for you? 

For me, it depends on what it is. Earlier this week, we changed plans and needed a last minute T-shirt design for a college ministry retreat. I had a choice. I could spend several hours attempting to design something that, let’s face it, would look awful no matter how much time I invested in it. Or I could text a friend and ask for help.

I am not kidding; the first draft of the design was completed within three minutes of the text. 

THREE MINUTES! 

Umm, yeah, I think that was a good decision!

Seriously, how cool is this shirt?!

But there are other times when I am not so quick to ask for help, even from my own family. There are certain things I simply feel are my duty or don’t want to bother others with. Often it’s just easier to do it myself. As a stay at home mom, I tend to view most of the household tasks as my responsibility. Asking others for help makes me feel lazy, incompetent, or like I am burdening them (which is ridiculous… but we’ll get to that in a bit.)

Still, it begs the question—why is it so hard for us to ask for help?

WHY WE’RE AFRAID TO ASK FOR HELP

There are a few reasons most of us are afraid to ask for help. 

The first reason is PRIDE. We like to think (or pretend?) we can do it all. Our ego drives us to over-excel, presenting an image of someone who can be all things to all people.

When something needs doing, we do it ourselves. If we don’t know how to do something, we’ll figure it out. Admitting we need help feels like failure somehow. Accepting assistance from others embarrasses us. It shows weakness and vulnerability, and those are not a traits our culture values.

Another reason we’re afraid to ask for help is because we don’t want to inconvenience anyone. This is particularly true for those who enjoy helping others. 

There is something engrained in us that causes us to feel good about meeting other people’s needs, but makes us feel selfish when we are the ones who need help. We know how valuable time is, especially when we spend a lot of it helping others, and we don’t want to be the reason someone else feels stressed or overwhelmed. 

When given the choice, we choose burn-out over selfishness every time.

What About PAYING for Help?

As Christians, we have also created a false narrative around paying for help. If there is something we can do ourselves (or figure out how to do ourselves), it seems wasteful to hire someone else to assist us. Spending money on such tasks appears extravagant; some might even say sinful. (Which, again, is ridiculous, but it’s a thing!)

We feel guilty for splurging on things we can do ourselves, and maybe even embarrassed that we have enough money to do so. Shouldn’t we give that money away rather than spending it on ourselves? Are we really being good stewards of what the Lord has blessed us with? 

Maybe. Maybe not.

After all, we spend money every day on things we can do ourselves without thinking twice about it. 

Have you ever paid someone to make you a cup of coffee or cook a meal for you (Chick-fil-a, anyone)? Do you grind your own wheat, bake your own bread, and can your own vegetables, or do you simply buy them from the grocery store? Maybe you pay someone to maintain your lawn or vehicle or plumbing, to spray for insects, or do your taxes. And certainly you could cut your own hair and paint your own nails…but it probably looks better when you pay someone to do it!

We spend money on lots of things we can technically do ourselves without even blinking an eye. Yet, somehow spending money on certain things seems embarrassing or selfish to us, and its time we start asking ourselves why.

WHY WE SHOULD ASK FOR HELP (BENEFITS)

While asking for help can be difficult, there are several reasons we should do it.

1. Our Gifts Are Different

First, each of us is gifted in different ways. Our weaknesses are someone else’s strengths! God created us to work together as a body. He does not expect an eye to figure out how to be a foot or a hand to learn how to smell. Sometimes we need to ask for help to do things we can’t do well (or at all). We might even need to pay for that help, and that’s okay!

I recently asked my Facebook friends what keeps them from asking for help, and my friend Kenna’s response stood out from the rest: “I can’t think of anything. When you’ve lived alone as long as I have, you learn to lean on others.”  

Isn’t this how God intends for us to live as the body of Christ—using our gifts to bless one another, depending on one another to help when we have a need?

2.  Our Time Is Valuable

In today’s culture, time is often a more valuable currency than money. Sometimes our best investment is to ask for help so we have time to do what we’re best at, what’s most important, and what we’re called to do. I could have spent several hours creating a design for those t-shirts, but instead I spent that time organizing every single detail for the rest of the retreat. Asking my friends to aid me with their gifts allowed me to be much more productive with my time.

Similarly, I can certainly scrub my own tubs and mop my own floors! But paying someone to do it for me frees me up to be more present with my family. It enables me to spend those hours helping with schoolwork, taking my boys to play basketball, or writing a blog post. Someone else can clean my house, but I’m the only one who can be “Mom” to my kids. For me, the time with my family is worth more than the money we spend.

3. Our Pride or Fear May Be Hindering a Blessing

I was pregnant with Noah when we hired the Brazilian couple who cleans for us, which means they have been with us for over eleven years. They love talking with our children, and they pray for us as they clean. With the effects of COVID on the economy, they really need this job. But even if they didn’t, we couldn’t let them go, because we consider them part of our family! 

Just as it brings us joy to help those around us, someone may want to bless us by sharing their talents with us. Likewise, when we pay someone to assist us, we are also helping them meet their financial needs with dignity. It’s a win-win situation!

Being too proud or “selfless” to ask for help can actually be “selfish” when we view it from a different perspective. Allowing ourselves to be blessed by others and to be a blessing to them paves the way for God to do greater things than we can even imagine!

So, how do we learn to ask for help?

HOW TO ASK FOR HELP

Now that we know why it’s hard to ask for help and why we should do it anyway, let’s talk about how to do it. Here are some questions to assist you in discerning where you need help and how you can get it.

  • What do I spend more time on than I would like?
  • What do I avoid doing because I don’t enjoy it, it will take too much time, or I’m not sure where to start?
  • What are 3 projects that would bring me great joy and peace if they were not hanging over my head?
  • What is one area I could outsource that would be a blessing to me/my family? How might it be a blessing to others as well? (For example, it would financially help the person I’m paying; it would be a blessing to my kids because I can do fun things with them; it would decrease my husband’s stress to not have to spend his day off working on the yard; it would bless my readers because I have more time to write; etc.)
  • If I currently have more time than money, how can I use my resources creatively? Is there something I can give up in order to pay for this service? (Trade weekly Starbucks expense for a sitter; Sell something to pay someone to clean/organize; etc.)
  • Can I use my time or talent to barter for what I need help with? (Childcare for computer help? Financial advice for manual labor? Decorating tips for tutoring services?) 

Friends, what if it became normal to:

Ask for help when you need it. Pay someone so you can use your time in other ways. Use one another as resources when we need assistance. Encourage others to build their “team.” Bless others with dignity when you are able.

What would life be like then?


It would be a lot easier, I think. Less frustrating. And possibly a bit more like God intends for it to be!

Where do you need help? Who can you ask? And how can you return the favor by being a blessing to someone else? 

Because as my friends from Chaos2Calm like to say, “You can do ANYTHING, but you can’t do EVERYTHING!”

A Letter to Heaven

Diana with Sarah following a piano recital

**Note: I wrote this three months ago, but wasn’t sure I wanted to share it. Sarah continues to flourish and find joy (and Jesus) once again through her music, so I decided to share in case it encourages someone else. But mostly, just so I have a record of God’s faithfulness to my girl! ❤ You can read a little more about Diana in this blog post about Sneaky Grief.

My friend,

I wish you could have heard the joy in Sarah’s voice when she called us today. She had just finished her piano evaluation, and she was over the moon! She prepared two pieces, but only had to play one (All of Me~ one of the many “beyond her ability” pieces you inspired her to play!). 

This is a really big deal. 

You see, she hasn’t been able to play since we lost you. When you died, something deep inside her died as well. Piano has been her emotional outlet since she was a little girl, but now it only reminds her of you. 

She tried to keep playing; she really did.  And she even kept teaching some of your old students, carrying on your legacy as she inspired them to play. But she stopped playing herself because it hurt too much to miss you. Her heart became deaf to the music of her soul.

Honestly, I was afraid she might never find it again.

I will be forever grateful to the precious teacher God brought into our lives after you passed. She was so patient with Sarah, understanding how her grief was tied to her playing. Sarah gave her very little effort, but this dear woman knew how much effort it required just for her to show up. She helped Sarah complete some goals you you began with her so long ago, enabling her to close that chapter without too much regret. While I feared this teacher was a bookend, I prayed that, instead, she’d be a bridge to something new…

A year and a half later, our girl is at college hundreds of miles from home. We are in these weird COVID days, and social events are limited. So, what does she do when she feels lonely or homesick or just needs a release from all the stress? How does she process all the different emotions swirling around inside her? 

She signs up for a practice room. 

Her fingers are slowly finding their way among the keys again, and her heart is slowly opening itself back up to the music. I can hear it in her voice, even with all these hours and miles between us. She is beginning to feel the music in her soul again. It’s breathing her back to life!

I don’t know where her music will lead her, and honestly, I don’t care. If she never plays outside her own living room, it won’t matter to me, as long as she plays! I just know she needs it~ it is part of her wiring, part of how God uniquely designed her, part of what brings her joy. She is not fully herself when she’s not playing, and much more herself when she is.

I know you would be so proud of her. She is beautiful and hardworking and just as stubborn driven as she’s always been! She has an elegance and professionalism that remind me so much of you. I see you in her sometimes, and it makes me smile. I hope you know how grateful we are for your impact on her life. 

We miss you.

My friend, I wish you could have heard her today. She is opening a new chapter~ letting go of her grief, stepping over her fear, and wading into new waters. It is uncharted territory for her, yet familiar somehow, as though you have prepared the way for her. She is no longer afraid. She is ready.

And I can hear you applauding her from heaven.

My February 2021 Book Stack

Maybe I’m weird, but something about cold weather makes me want to read. There is nothing like curling up by the fire under a blanket with a good book!

Thankfully, there was plenty of cold weather last month. So, here’s what I read in February:

The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah

Kristin Hannah’s The Nightingale is one of my all-time favorite books, so choosing this book was a no-brainer. Hannah is a master at historical fiction; she is able to recreate settings and build characters in a way that completely immerses her readers in the story. The Great Alone was no different.

Set during the mid-1970’s, the story unfolds of a young family grappling to make things work. Ernt Allbright is a caring husband and doting father; but his time as a POW during Vietnam changed everything. Struggling with PTSD (long before they knew that was a thing), Ernt finds it difficult to keep a job or stay in one place too long. His wife, Cora, and 13 year old daughter, Leni, do their best to keep him happy as they cling to what’s left of him. Upon learning of some property given to him by a fallen comrade, Ernt convinces Cora and Leni to pack all their belongings into a VW van and drive to the end of the world— the wilderness of Alaska.

However, what awaits them in Alaska is more than they ever expected! There they find breathtaking views, the most loyal friendships, and a beautiful, unforgiving frontier. While Cora and Leni make preparations to survive their first winter, Ernt spends his days attempting to tame both their property and his temper. Life is better for a while, but as the weather grows colder and the nights grow longer, darkness crawls into the cracks of his soul, and the danger within their home soon overshadows the dangers outside. This is a story of the loss of innocence and coming of age, faithful friendships and tragic circumstances, survival and co-dependency. Hannah masterfully weaves her tale of love and heartbreak with threads of courage and weakness that kept me staying up way too late at night reading “just one more chapter.” 

The imagery of Alaska in this book is breathtaking and makes me long to experience it in person. The characters become friends as the story progresses, and I found myself wishing I could do something to help. Her depiction of the violence that can be associated with PTSD is difficult to read, but so very real. Anyone with domestic abuse in their past may want to skip this one or be prepared for possible triggers. For the rest of us, it is a beautiful story written with great compassion for those who wrestle with their own nightmares and experiences, while still prioritizing the safety and health of those who love them. I highly recommend this book, but only if you want to book a trip to Alaska afterwards!

The Book Jumper by Mechthild Gläser

This was another fun fiction read. I came across it at our local used bookstore, and it jumped right into my pile of books! (Okay, that was super corny. Sorry.) Y’all know I am a big fan of YA fantasy, and what book-lover doesn’t love the idea of the real life and story-life overlapping? That’s exactly what happens in this story.

Amy Lennox is a teenage girl struggling to find herself amidst the cruelty that accompanies adolescence. She usually escapes into her books, but this time when her mother suffers a difficult break-up, the two of them run away to her mother’s childhood home on the island of Stormsay. Their adventure is shrouded in mystery from the beginning, and Amy could never have imagined the secrets she would uncover. 

The author did a great job of adding in enough twists and turns to keep the ending unpredictable, which added to the suspense and kept me reading. Part mystery, part fantasy, and part teenage coming-of-age, this is a fun story for anyone who loves books!

In His Steps by Charles M. Sheldon

My freshman year of college, a close friend gave me this book, and it had a profound impact on my spiritual life. Though In His Steps was written in 1896, its message is just as pertinent today as it was to its original audience. It is the fictional story of a town that is completely transformed when a stranger interrupts a church service one Sunday, questioning whether or not the “Christ-followers” are actually following Jesus at all. He calmly challenges the congregation to compare their own actions to the teaching and example of Jesus, wondering if perhaps they like the idea of claiming to follow Jesus more than they like actually obeying Him.

After pondering the stranger’s words, the minister discovers his entire concept of discipleship is in disarray. The next Sunday, he stands before his congregation and issues a challenge: Who will commit for one whole year to do nothing without first asking, “What would Jesus do?” and responding in obedience, regardless of the cost? The goal is not to judge anyone else’s interpretation, but simply to seek the Holy Spirit’s guidance on what Jesus would have you do in your current situation. 

The rest of the book unveils the difference it makes in people’s lives, both individually and collectively, when Christ’s followers live in obedience to the Master instead of conforming to the world. This is a life-changing concept, and one of the reasons this book has been a favorite for thirty years. If you are interested in pursuing this further, check out my 31 Day Discipleship Challenge!

Into the Region of Awe by David C. Downing

I came across this title in one of my readings last year, and since I am a big fan of C.S. Lewis’ books, I thought I’d check it out. In Into the Region of Awe, Downing challenges the modern mantra that mysticism and sound doctrine cannot coexist. What better way to do that than to use C. S. Lewis as an example? After all, he is one of our most famous apologists while also being one of our most well-loved writers of fantasy. Downing makes the case that, while Lewis was firmly grounded in his theology and never called himself a mystic, his work and correspondence are filled with plenty of mystical elements and beliefs. 

In my opinion, Downing did a great job defining mysticism and then supporting his thesis using both Lewis’s fictional and non-fictional writings. To remove any mystical element from God is to make Him merely human; and to limit Him to the realm of supernatural experience is to ignore the reality of Jesus and risk falling into the trap of false mysticism (and universalism). Through Lewis’s works, Downing introduces us to Christian mystics whom Lewis admired and the context in which they wrote and served. These are in great contrast to many modern “mystics” who seek “experience” without any notion of sacrifice or service.

This book is academic in nature and much of it reads almost like a textbook, so at times it was difficult for me to get through. But I highly recommend it for anyone seeking to find a balance between solid doctrine which is not swayed by emotion and personal encounters with the Presence of God (which, by their very nature, are mystical experiences). Downing makes a good case for not just the existence of both, but the necessity of both in our relationship with Christ.

**************

So, that’s what I read in February!

What about you? What’s on your nightstand?

When You Feel Stuck…

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

Several years ago, when our kids were little, we paused to take pictures at an outside platform. We were in the World Showcase at EPCOT, looking across the lake towards Spaceship Earth. Eli was just a toddler at the time (and all boy!). I leaned down to fix Abby’s shoe, when all of the sudden, I heard screaming, and Sarah squealed, “Momma, come help! Eli’s stuck!” 

Somehow our little guy had squeezed his head through the opening in the bars and was unable to pull it back out. So there he stood, half of him on one side of the gate and half of him on the other, unable to move in any direction. 

Eventually, we were able to calm him down, and when he scooted a little lower, his head finally slid out. He was instantly off on another adventure as if nothing had ever happened. Like I said, all boy!

Friend, do you ever find yourself feeling stuck?

Maybe you set some goals and start moving forward, only to get part way in and find yourself caught between where you just were and where you are going. It paralyzes you, stopping your momentum and freezing you in your tracks. It can be scary at times, annoying at others, but it’s never fun.

We are nine weeks into the New Year, and I’ve had so many people express lately how they are feeling stuck. Our kids are struggling to stay motivated in school— third quarter is always when they wrestle most. The weather has been yucky, which can definitely affect our mood, as well as our desire to exercise… and if you’re me, to want to eat a lot of chocolate! And now that it’s becoming warmer outside, I am even less motivated, because I just want to enjoy it and not do anything else! Can you relate?

I want to be honest with you… I have also started feeling unmotivated in this “transformation” journey. I am getting impatient with slow progress and irritated with small steps. At the same time, the journey ahead seems overwhelming. 

My house is still overflowing with clutter, my marriage is still imperfect, my new website is still under construction, and my children still wrestle with character issues (go figure). And for some reason, everyone in this house still wants clean clothes and dinner every night! Where’s the chocolate?!

I find myself like little Eli, part in and part out, frozen in place, desperately needing someone to help me.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

What do you do when you feel stuck? How do you get yourself out of that place and moving in the right direction? Where do you find your motivation?

I’ve been thinking about that story with Eli, wondering if there are some tips to be gleaned that might help us get unstuck. Here’s how it went down: 

  • First, we had him take a breath and calm down. Yes, he was stuck, but he wasn’t going to be stuck forever. Perspective is a wonderful thing! 
  • Next, we took assessment of the situation. How did he get there? What was the best way to get him out? Could we get him out on our own or would we need help?
  • Finally, we came up with a plan. We realized he could get out the same way he went in; he just needed to retrace his steps. 

I wonder if we can use those same steps to help us get unstuck?

  • Breathe and get perspective.
  • Take assessment of the situation.
  • Make a plan and do it.

The weather has been so nice here the past week, and I have been able to go for a walk every day. I have learned that this, along with my prayer time, is how I breathe. Something about walking or hiking outside in nature opens my soul and enables me to take a breath. Making this a priority has helped me not feel so overwhelmed by all the things I’m not doing but feel like I need to be doing. It has slowed my mind down enough to remember that I am not going to be stuck forever. I can, in fact, move forward again if I will take the time to get unstuck first. 

And a crazy thing happened— as I began to take assessment of where I started and where I am now, I realized that I have actually made more progress than I thought! I have a really bad tendency to focus on what I’m not doing instead of what I have accomplished. Anyone else relate to that?

When I look at my house, all I see is the piles of clutter, the still-not-decorated basement, the never-ending laundry, and the long list of tasks in need of attention. When I look at my writing projects, I get discouraged at how little I have accomplished compared to what I hoped to have done by now. I notice how Jeff still has to fight for my attention when the kids are around and how we went two weeks without a date, even after I put together “date cards” to make it easier for us to prioritize it! My list of failures just keeps growing.

But I forget  to notice how many “small spaces” I have managed to clean out since January, not to mention the fact that my closet is STILL clean and organized (woo hoo!). I forget to give myself credit for starting two new writing projects and posting weekly on my blog, even when life got crazy or I had no idea what to write. Also, when I didn’t keep up with my writing goals, it was because I was prioritizing my family or connecting with a friend, which simply means I am doing what matters most… which is also one of my goals for this year! 

And it’s true, our marriage is hardly Instagram-worthy (is there really such a thing?), but Jeff and I have gone on a few breakfast dates, which seems to be working better for us right now. He also mentioned several deep conversations we’ve shared over the past month or two, and we both agreed we feel much more connected. It’s hard to measure that kind of progress, but it is progress nonetheless, and it shouldn’t be discounted.

After taking assessment, I realized… I may not be quite as stuck as I thought I was! My progress is just slow and spread out, not clumped all together in a way I can see it and feel accomplished. Instead of actually being stuck, maybe I just feel stuck. There’s a big difference!

So, my plan is just to keep working the plan. Keep praying first, doing what matters most, and reminding myself that less is better. Keep taking tiny steps in the right direction and trusting they will eventually lead me where God wants me to go. 

Keep fixing my eyes on Jesus and forgiving myself when I fail, which is often. And keep offering myself as “a living sacrifice,” allowing God to renew my mind and change how I think— even about myself and my progress (see Romans 12:1-2).

Friend, where are you stuck right now? Perhaps these tips can help you see yourself and your situation from God’s perspective and enable you to move forward. Let me encourage you to trust the small steps, even when it doesn’t feel like you’re getting anywhere fast. In the words of the tortoise, “Slow and steady wins the race!”

“God is the one who began this good work in you, and I am certain that he won’t stop before it is complete…” (Philippians 1:6, CEV)

If this helps you or if you have other tips for getting unstuck, I’d love to hear them!

31 Day Discipleship Challenge: How to Follow Jesus

My freshman year of college, a close friend gave me a book that had a profound impact on my spiritual life. In His Steps is a Christian fiction novel written in 1896 by Charles Sheldon. It tells the story of a town that is completely transformed when a stranger interrupts a church service one Sunday, questioning whether or not the Christ-followers are actually following Jesus at all. He calmly inquires:

I was wondering… if what you call following Jesus is the same thing as what He taught. What did He mean when He said: ‘Follow Me’? The minister said… it is necessary for the disciple of Jesus to follow His steps, and he said the steps are ‘obedience, faith, love, and imitation.’ But I did not hear him tell you just what he meant that to mean, especially the last step. What do you Christians mean by following the steps of Jesus… What do you mean when you sing, ‘I’ll go with Him, with Him, all the way?’ Do you mean that you are suffering and denying yourselves and trying to save lost, suffering humanity just as I understand Jesus did?… It seems to me there’s an awful lot of trouble in the world that somehow wouldn’t exist if all the people who sing such songs went and lived them out. I suppose I don’t understand. But what would Jesus do? Is that what you mean by following His steps?

In His Steps, p.8-9

After pondering the stranger’s words, the minister discovers his entire concept of discipleship is in disarray. The next Sunday, he stands before his congregation and issues a challenge: Who will commit for one whole year to do nothing without first asking, “What would Jesus do?” and responding in obedience, regardless of the cost? The goal is not to judge anyone else’s interpretation, but simply to seek the Holy Spirit’s guidance on what Jesus would have you do in your current situation. 

The rest of the book unveils the difference it makes in people’s lives, both individually and collectively, when Christ’s followers live in obedience to the Master instead of by conforming to the world.

I pulled that same, worn copy out earlier this month and read it again. It challenged and inspired me just as much now as when I first read it thirty years ago! Since we are in Lent, a season of surrender and preparation leading up to Easter, and since many of you seem to be intrigued by my journey of allowing God to “transform” me this year, I have decided to issue a 31Day Discipleship Challenge for the month of March. If you desire to truly follow Jesus in a transformational way, this challenge is for you!

As 2 Timothy 3:16-17 reminds us, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” While I continue to use Romans 12:1-2 as my theme verse for 2021, for the purpose of this challenge, I want to focus on a different verse:

“Then Jesus said to His disciples, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.’” (Matthew 16:24, ESV)

Jesus is giving us the formula for discipleship: Deny yourself, Take up your cross, Follow in my steps. 

Obviously, it’s not as simple as it sounds. Jesus’ path led through great suffering and self-sacrifice, so it can be assumed ours will include similar elements. However, we have been given the gift of the Holy Spirit (the Presence of God within us!) to be our guide and strength. We don’t have to try to figure it all out on our own! He promises to help us. We have everything we need!

So here’s the challenge.

For the next 31 days, I challenge you to spend time with the LORD every day (preferably first thing in the morning, but whatever works best for you) and ask Him these questions:

1. DENY YOURSELF

  • In what ways/areas do I need to deny myself?
  • Another way of asking this is what do I want to do or have that I need to surrender to You instead?
  • What are you asking me to give up that will cost me something?
  • What am I afraid to give up?

2. TAKE UP YOUR CROSS

  • What is the “cross” I need to take up?
  • What do I not want to do, but need to?
  • What am I afraid of?
  • How are you calling me to suffer or sacrifice for You?

3. FOLLOW IN HIS STEPS

  • How are you asking/calling me to follow you?
  • Where do I see or sense You at work, and how can I join You?
  • What is one step I can take towards You TODAY?

I encourage you to write down your answers everyday. If you are not a journaling person, you might want to just do bullet points under each topic. At first, simply write down whatever thoughts come to mind and see if there are any patterns that emerge. 

Then spend some time on this, truly listening for the Father’s voice. You might know instantly what next step God is calling you to; perhaps this exercise will give you the courage to move forward in obedience. Or you may not have any idea what you need to surrender or where He wants to take you, and that’s okay!

It is my prayer that praying this Scripture every day will open your eyes to seeing Jesus in a much deeper, more personal way. 

James promises us, “Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you.” (James 4:8, ESV) If you long for God to transform your life, your heart, your marriage, your finances, etc. into all He designed them to be, draw near to Him! He will meet you where you are and walk with you from there.

Can you imagine the difference it would make in this world if all who claim to follow Jesus actually did? If honoring Christ with our thoughts, words, and actions became more important to us than feeling comfortable, making money, or being accepted? 

Let’s find out together! Who’s in? 

If you’re up for the challenge, please comment below or send me a message. I’d love to walk this journey beside you and have a front row seat to what God is going to do!

Also, if you have a minute, check out these other “Challenge”-related blog posts from some of my friends:

https://www.ashleyolivine.com/the-motherhood-penalty-challenge/

https://www.epigenwellness.com/insomnia-with-anxiety-how-to-overcome-challenge/

Challenging Times: 3 Ways to Endure the Struggle

6 Scripture Verses for Heart Transformation

Have you ever read something in the Bible you may have read before, but suddenly something about it strikes you in a completely different way? You read it again, wondering how you ever could have missed it. 

Because this time it changes you. It makes you different. 

You can never read those verses the same again.

The story of Jesus feeding the five thousand found in John 6:1-15 is one of those passages for me.  I was familiar with the story, had read it more than once, and heard it preached on countless times. However, one night at a college Bible study, this one tiny verse stuck right in the middle of the passage jumped out at me for the first time ever. Jesus asks the disciples how they are going to feed all those people, and suddenly Andrew speaks up. In verse 9, he says, “Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?”

Normally, I jumped ahead to the miracle—how Jesus was able to feed all those people with that tiny amount of food. But this time, for the first time, I noticed the boy

That little boy must have overheard Jesus and his buddies talking about their dilemma. He may have looked around, wondering why the adults weren’t helping, or glanced towards town where the fishermen usually brought their daily catch. All we know, though, is that while the disciples complained and argued about their impossible situation, this little boy had the courage to offer a solution. 

Was he afraid to approach Jesus? Did he wonder if it was enough?

The Bible doesn’t say. It simply tells us that the little boy walked up and offered all he had to Jesus. And Jesus, likely giving him a wink and a secret smile, took that tiny offering and turned it into a miracle. Without the lunch, there would be no miracle. Without the boy, there would be no lunch. 

“Without the lunch, there would be no miracle.

Without the boy, there would be no lunch. “

What was it that made me suddenly notice the boy? Perhaps I noticed because I felt like him—small, unnoticeable, lost in the crowd, with not much to offer, but a great desire to help. I was about to graduate from college. All my plans had changed with a broken engagement (you can read a little more about that here), and I had accepted a job into full-time student ministry, for which I felt unqualified and ill-equipped.

Who was I to lead people to Jesus? What could I offer that was worth anything compared to those around me? I felt like a little kid in a grown-up’s world, and I wasn’t sure I had anything to offer that mattered.

But I loved Jesus. And there was nothing I wouldn’t give Him, nothing I wouldn’t do for Him, no matter how silly or insignificant it seemed.

So I noticed the little boy because he was me.

That little phrase stuck in the middle of the miracle was the Father’s way of whispering to me that my gifts, no matter how small or insignificant, mattered. He cared less about my ability and more about my availability. The boy didn’t make the miracle happen, Jesus did! But He did it with the little boy’s lunch. The offering makes all the difference.

That one little verse transformed the way I think about my gifts. I’ll be honest; even after all these years, what I have to offer still seems small and inconsequential. Even writing this blog post, I catch myself wondering who will want to read it and how it can possibly help anyone. But then I remind myself of the little boy who bravely brought his lunch to Jesus, trusting Him to do something worthwhile with it. I remind myself that the value lies not in the gift but in the giving. So I offer, and then I wait to see what God will do. (If you want to read more on the little boy, check out this blog post from Paul David Tripp: https://www.paultripp.com/articles/posts/dont-forget-about-the-boy)

As I lean into the idea of “transformation” this year, I am confident that it begins with Scripture. 

Nothing transforms our hearts like the Word of God. 

It changes the way we think, what we value, how we respond. So I want to share a few verses I am praying that help open my heart to whatever God wants to do in me, in the hope that they will help you, too.

6 Verses for Heart Transformation

Romans 12:1-2

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. (NIV)

Ezekial 36:26

 I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. (NIV)

Psalm 51:10-12

Create in me a clean heart, O God.
    Renew a loyal spirit within me.
11 Do not banish me from your presence,
    and don’t take your Holy Spirit[
a] from me.

12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
    and make me willing to obey you. (NLT)

2 Timothy 3:16

All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. (NLT)

Ephesians 4:22-24

You were taught to leave your old self—to stop living the evil way you lived before. That old self becomes worse, because people are fooled by the evil things they want to do. 23 But you were taught to be made new in your hearts, 24 to become a new person. That new person is made to be like God—made to be truly good and holy. (NCV)

James 1:22-25

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. 23 Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror 24 and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like.25 But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do. (NIV)

There are plenty more where these came from, and I will share more throughout the coming year, but this is a good place to start. 

Are there verses God is using to shape your heart to be more like Him? I’d love to hear them!

My January 2021 Book Stack

New year, new reading challenge… Let’s go!!

I am still adding books to my 2021 Reading Challenge. If you’re interested, you can follow my account on Goodreads. And feel free to leave book recommendations here in the comments! 

If you’re new around here, my word for 2021 is TRANSFORM, so you’ll notice that several of the books I read this year will contribute to that theme. Three books in my January book stack fit in that category; one was just for fun. I do not plan to be so ambitious every month; something about January always makes me start strong! 

I enjoyed all these books. If any of them sound interesting, you should definitely add them to your own reading challenge!

 Essentialsim: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown

I ordered this book after listening to an interview with McKeown in my hope*writer’s group. He told his personal story of what led him to focus on what is most essential, and discussed the importance of not only knowing our true priorities, but making space to actually live them. 

In this book, McKeown takes those ideals and breaks them down into bite-size applications, making it a bit simpler for the rest of us to follow along. It is filled with inspiring quotes, such as: “If you don’t prioritize your life, someone else will,” “If it isn’t a clear yes, it’s a clear no,” and “Less, but better.” I claimed that last one as one of my transformation themes this year! 

I particularly enjoyed Part III (Eliminate: How can we cut out the trivial many) and Part IV (Execute: How can we make doing the vital few things almost effortless). While parts of the book seem repetitive, most of that repetition reinforces his main points and help to serve his purpose. It was a quick read for me, easy to pick up and put down in short spans of time, and I have a feeling I will return to it several times this year. If you read it and like it, McKeown just released a follow-up book, “Effortless,” which you might want to check out!

A Praying Life by Paul E. Miller

This book is so rich! I participated in a book exchange for Christmas (also through hope*writers… have I mentioned how much I love my writing group??), and this is the book I received. The reviews were fantastic, so I couldn’t wait to start reading!

This book is broken down into five sections: Learning to Pray Like a Child, Learning to Trust Again, Learning to Ask Your Father, Living in Your Father’s Story, and Praying in Real Life. The first section moved a little slow for me (perhaps because I don’t struggle so much in that area), so I feared I might be disappointed. I was not!

This book got better and better as it went along! On page 35, Miller says, 

“You don’t create intimacy; you make room for it. This is true whether you are talking about your spouse, your friend, or God. You need space to be together. Efficiency, multitasking, and busyness all kill intimacy. In short, you can’t get to know God on the fly. If Jesus has to pull away from people and noise in order to pray, then it makes sense that we need to as well.” 

The goal of this book is to help us create intimacy with God through our prayer life. In chapters 9-11, Miller discusses how cynicism has crept into our culture and into our spirit, often leaving us paralyzed and unable to live in faith. I found this whole concept fascinating, and appreciate his steps for recognizing this and moving forward. In chapter 18, “Surrender Completely,” he emphasizes our tendency to rely on ourselves, turning only to the Father out of desperation (which is the opposite of abiding). This was transformation for me.

My favorite part of this book, however, is his very practical concept of Prayer cards. I have written in a prayer journal almost daily since college (more sporadically before that), and have used several systems to help organize and encourage the act of praying for others. His prayer card system resonated with me so strongly, I quickly began making cards of my own. I will share about this soon in a Transformation Update on prayer, so watch for that!

 Two as One: Connecting Daily with Christ and Your Spouse by Ryan & Selena Frederick

This book actually started out as a series of Instagram posts. The Fredericks then turned them into a 30-day day devotional with the intent of helping couples connect daily with one another and Jesus. Each day consists of an inspirational image/quote, a few short paragraphs centered around that specific theme, and two relevant discussion questions, followed by a space for written prayers. 

Some of the images are extremely powerful. The devotional thoughts are short and sweet, but not too “surface-y”. So often I find Christian marriage devotionals cheesy and irrelevant to couples living in the real world, but the Fredericks do a great job of addressing some real issues and connecting them to spiritual/heart issues in a few short sentences. Jeff mentioned he would have liked them to dive deeper into many of these areas, and I agree. But alas, Instagram has a word limit! I think most of the discussion questions can actually lead to thoughtful conversation, but I find it unlikely that couples will write out their prayers in the same book. That aside, I really enjoyed this little devotional and have recommended it to several friends.

Fable by Adrienne Young

This was my “fun read” for this month and I loved it! The front sleeve reads, “Welcome to a world made dangerous by the sea and by those who wish to profit form it. Where a young girl must find her place and her family while trying to survive in a world built for men.” This Young Adult fantasy novel is a cross between Hunger Games and Pirates of the Caribbean, and the result is an adventure that kept me reading page after page. Fable is a strong, endearing protagonist in the same vein as Katniss (Hunger Games) and Tris (Divergent), and West drew me in from the beginning. As with most modern YA novels, two of the supporting characters are in a same-sex relationship, so this can open the door for great discussion if your teens are reading it. Otherwise, it ends with a cliffhanger, and I can’t wait for the sequel, which is supposed to release next month!

And that’s what was in my January 2021 book stack! What about you, friends?

What’s on your nightstand?