The Lies We Believe: How Comparison Robs Us of Community

“Don’t compare what you know about yourself to what you don’t know about me.”

These words were spoken over 20 years ago by a prominent speaker at a National Youth Workers Convention I attended. His comments were intended to humanize himself, a reminder to the rest of us that his life was not any easier, nor was his ministry any more effective than ours was. This is a lie we tend to believe- one that often robs us of the community we were created for. 

He mentioned the temptation for us to think he was somehow better than us simply because he was standing on a big stage, when in reality, his students bemoaned his “boring talks” and “stupid programs” just like ours did. Sure, he had wisdom to share, but he wanted to make sure we understood it was gained in the trenches, not by some royal edict or heavenly proclamation. 

He was “wise” because he had learned from his mistakes. He was “seasoned” because he had travelled long, difficult roads and persevered. He was not speaking to us because he was somehow “holier” than us; he was simply more experienced. 

And experience is not something you gain on the sidelines.

I have kept his statement tucked away since that day.  Occasionally, I pull it out to remind myself that “perfect” people (or jobs or children or marriages) are rarely what they seem on the outside, and if I take the time to investigate, I might find that their story isn’t all that different than mine. 

Fast forward to this weekend.

I was talking with a few friends, and one of them shared some struggles she was facing with her daughter. I mentioned that I had gone through a similar struggle with one of my girls a few years ago and would love to have lunch to compare notes. My sweet friend smiled at me a little sadly and said, “Oh, that’s okay. I’m sure this is on a whole different level than what you’re thinking. But thank you for offering.”

Y’all.

That is a lie straight from the enemy, and I told her so. 

I know because I have listened to it many times myself. Satan was telling my friend that what was happening in her family was an anomaly, something unusual and terrible that no one else could possibly understand or relate to. He was trying to isolate her, because once we are isolated, the only voice we tend to hear is his, and his job gets so much easier. That sneaky Deceiver loves to twist and distort the truth, whispering shame and despair straight into our hearts.

But he is a liar.

The truth is, none of us have perfect families. No one around us has a perfect life, a perfect spouse, a perfect job, or a perfect child. And chances are, whatever we are going through, there are people in our circles who have struggled or are currently struggling with similar things; we just don’t know it. 

See, my friend was comparing what she knew about herself to what she didn’t know about me. And as a result, she might have missed out on the very encouragement the Lord was trying to send her! 

That sounds just like the enemy’s work to me. 

Somehow my friend had created an idealized impression of my family. Now, if you don’t know me personally, I am pretty much a hot mess most of the time, and so is our family. I am a pretty open person, though, and I try to be very genuine in my (hot mess) life, as well as in my writing. However, there are things that simply can’t, in good conscience, be put on display for everyone to know. 

For instance, it is impossible to share some of our children’s struggles, who are wrestling with their identity and independence, and not risk compromising their reputations. Likewise, proclaiming our own faults and flaws to people who don’t know us or care about us can limit our credibility and influence, because they have no context in which to apply it.  So when someone’s life looks shinier than ours, even someone who is very genuine, there’s a good chance their laundry stinks just like ours does… they have just chosen not to hang it all out for the whole world to see.

Proverbs 13:3 wisely advises, “Those who guard their lips preserve their lives, but those who speak rashly will come to ruin.” And Proverbs 12:23 says, “The prudent keep their knowledge to themselves, but a fool’s heart blurts out folly.” The Bible is full of such admonitions; it simply isn’t wise for us to bear our souls with just anyone. 

At the same time, God also encourages us to pour out our hearts to Him, for He is our refuge (see Ps 63:5, 8). And 1 Peter 5:7 tells us, “Cast all your anxieties on Him, because He cares for you.” 

The Lord never intends for us to carry our burdens by ourselves. When we are struggling, we must not listen to the whispers of the Deceiver, telling us to hide our challenges behind closed doors, especially from the Holy One. 

Bad things grow in the dark. The best thing to do with our struggles is to bring them into the Light- to those who can offer wisdom and encouragement, and most importantly, into the Presence of the One who makes all things new.

God created us with a need and desire for community– both with Him and other believers- because He knew the burdens would be too much for us to bear alone. I love this passage from Ecclesiastes (Ch. 4, v. 9-12):

“Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed. If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble. Likewise, two people lying close together can keep each other warm. But how can one be warm alone? A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken.” (NIV)

Friends, if we are tempted to think no one else will understand what we are going through, it’s not true. If you are looking at other people’s lives (especially mine!) and thinking they are perfect, or at least more perfect than yours, you are being deceived. At best, they are a little further down the road. But more likely, they just haven’t put their struggles on display.

I am embarrassed to admit how often I have allowed the fear of what other people might think keep me from reaching out. We cannot let the lies of the enemy or our own insecurities keep us from experiencing the hope and peace Jesus offers us! We need each other!

In what areas are you struggling? What challenge are you facing for which someone else might be able to offer insight or wisdom? Who have you put on a pedestal of perfection without finding out their real story? And who around you might benefit from the difficult lessons the Lord has taught you?

Let’s choose NOT to compare what we know about ourselves to what we don’t know about other people. 

Instead, let’s lean in to the community the Lord has given us, unburdening our hearts and learning from one another, as we share this journey together. 

Why I’m Thankful for the Super Bowl Halftime Show

Full disclosure:

I had to go on Youtube and watch the halftime show before writing this post. With multiple children and teenagers in the house, I have not watched the Super Bowl halftime show in years! And while I had seen clips and pretty much knew the gist of what happened, I didn’t want to comment without seeing it myself and forming my own opinion. Honestly, I’m thankful I did.

I had not planned to comment at all… Heaven knows there are plenty of opinions floating around out there in the social media world already! Who needs one more? 

My girls, that’s who. 

And that’s why I’m thankful for the Super Bowl Half-time show.

So, I will start with what I enjoyed about it. I think Shakira and Jennifer Lopez were great choices to perform in Miami. I understand they were chosen to represent the strong Latin-American population in that area, which makes perfect sense. They are both extremely talented dancers and singers, and their following is huge. It was a great choice!

  • I enjoyed the Latin-flavored dance segments, especially with the men. It was a nice throwback to traditional Latin culture; the music was upbeat and the moves were so fun!
  • Having two teenage daughters who spent many years in dance class and are currently involved in musical theatre, I have a great appreciation for these two women’s ability to dance. Man, can they move! I almost threw my back out just watching them!
  • Their voices are beautiful. Lip Syncing or not, they are both extremely talented singers. I wouldn’t have been able to breathe after about 20 seconds, let alone sing, so no judgement from me!
  • The set and projections were incredible. I barely even noticed things like lighting before I met my friend, Will (who is a lighting genius!), but this was impossible to miss. That stage was on fi-ya!
  • I loved hearing J-lo’s daughter and the other young girls sing. I am a sucker for a mother-daughter combo! And their dresses were beautiful.

Hopefully it’s clear at this point that I am not a racist, nor am I merely a party-pooper or a party-liner. At the same time, I am also not someone who was looking forward to a family-friendly event and ended up shocked by the risqué content. I did not initially watch it because I did not expect it to be family friendly. Which, of course, was the case. 

So why in the world am I thankful for the Half-Time Show?

Because it is a great opportunity to start a conversation on some difficult, yet extremely important, topics with our children. 

You see, while there were some beautiful and powerful elements to that half-time show, it is apparent (based on the social media storm) that they were very much diminished by the hyper-sexualized nature of the show.

The unique flavor of the culture and talented dancers were overshadowed by the pole dancing, crotch-grabbing, and twerking.

The beauty of theses amazing artists was shifted onto their disappearing wardrobe rather than their eyes and smile.

And any political statement they may have been trying to make vanished along with said wardrobe.

While their intent may have simply been to give everyone a good time, instead they communicated a much more powerful (and in my opinion, harmful) message to their national audience, and to young girls in particular… Especially all the young, Latino girls looking to them as role models.

Regardless of what they say, that message was not, “Women are strong! Women are powerful!”

Instead, the message was, “It doesn’t matter how strong, smart, beautiful, or talented you are; the best way to get attention and power as a woman is to show off your body and make people want you. Sexy is powerful!”

I cannot tell you how sad this makes my momma heart. 

It reminds me of two summers ago when we spent a week serving Hispanic immigrants with a small, rural mission church in North Carolina. The pastor told us one of the most difficult issues they faced in breaking the cycle of poverty in their community was the cultural view of teenage sexuality. Apparently, around the age of 14, the teen girls set their hearts on getting pregnant- that way, they could get married and find security in a family of their own. They didn’t realize those actions were trapping them all in extreme poverty with low-paying jobs and no education, among other things. They were simply following the example of those who had gone before them.  They heard the message loud and clear: “The best way to get attention and power is to show off your body and make people want you. Sexy is powerful!” 

Except when it isn’t.

I wish I could gather up every young girl in America, sit them in my living room, and convince them that they are more than the sum of their “parts”. It grieves me to watch so many young girls buying the lie that they have no value apart from their bodies!

Unfortunately, my living room is not that big, and my influence is even smaller. So here are the conversations I will continue having with my own daughters, praying they will impact others as they live out these truths:

  • You are more than the sum of your “parts”.  Who you are on the inside is vastly more important and lasting than who you are on the outside. (For years, Jeff has explained to them that most people will focus on their “frosting”- their looks, body, and talents, when what really matters is what’s on the inside- their “cake”) Girls, if your cake is amazing, people quickly look past your frosting!
  • Your worth and value are found in being loved by God and created for a purpose, not in what you look like or what others think of you. Resist the urge to sell yourself out to a lesser bidder.
  • Your power comes from standing in Truth and being a Light.  Showing off your body and looking “sexy” gains you attention, not power. Those are two very different things.
  • There is nothing wrong with wearing clothes and make-up that make you feel beautiful! But make-up and clothing should accentuate your beauty, not detract from it or draw attention elsewhere. You want people walking away thinking about your kindness, your smile, your laugh- not your body parts. 
  • If you want people to respect you, conduct yourself in a manner worthy of respect. This includes how you present yourself on Instagram and Tik-Tok (and apparently at the half-time show of the Super Bowl).
  • What you do impacts other people. You do not get to choose whether or not you influence people, only HOW you influence them. People will pay more attention to what you do than what you say, so choose your messages carefully. If you truly seek to follow Jesus and walk in His ways, you won’t have to worry about the message- it will take care of itself. 
  • You will get it wrong sometimes, and that’s okay! We all mess up. Mistakes are part of growing up; they are how we learn our best lessons. It’s how you respond to those mistakes that matters. Run to Jesus, no matter what, and know that we will always have your back.
  • You are loved! Completely, unconditionally, immeasurably more than you can think or imagine, by us and even more so by God. Nothing will ever change that! Read Romans 8:38-39.

Our 9 year old boy is still pretty clueless, but I was thankful to use this as an opportunity to also talk to our 11 year old son about one day choosing a girl for what’s on the inside, not the outside. His older sister promptly gave him this motto: “Unless you work in the Publix bakery, I don’t want to see your frosting!” Gotta love big sisters! In any case, don’t forget to talk to your boys as well!

Friends, these conversations are so very important. And they are much more impactful when applied to real life situations! It helps to have an example with skin on (or in this case, lots of skin, and stripper poles, too!) to bring these truths to life. Don’t miss this blessing in disguise!

And for that reason, I am thankful for the Super Bowl Halftime Show.

Would I do it again?

23 years.

My husband and I celebrated our 23rd wedding anniversary last month. I was 23 when we got married, which means I have officially been married to him for half my life!

As we reminisced about some of the experiences we have shared, he looked me in the eyes and asked, “Would you still marry me again? I mean, knowing everything you know about how life with me has turned out, if you could go back to that time 23 years ago, would you still make the same choice? Would you still choose me?” 

Without even thinking, I replied, “Of course!” 

And I would, absolutely.

But for the sake of deep thinking, I want to stop and travel down that road just a bit. This man has loved me and stood by me for over two decades. He deserves more than a trite answer and a shrug. He deserves to know why I would say yes, why I would choose him all over again. And so I pause…

Because in many ways, while our life together has been beautiful, it has not turned out at all like I expected. When he proposed to me, I had a pretty good idea of what I was getting myself into, and so did he. We were both in full time ministry, working on a church staff together. Ministry was pretty much our life. We even chose to get married right after Christmas because that is a slow time on the church calendar, which would make it an ideal time to celebrate our anniversary each year. 

Yes, the future obviously held a long road of ministry life for us. 

I wrestled with what that would mean for me. I knew I had to put him first, and that my role as a pastor’s wife was going to have to be more important than my role as a Youth Minister. 

My young, prideful heart struggled internally with making that sacrifice, as though giving up a title might mean giving up part of my soul. I had no idea at the time just how many titles and identities I would have to surrender. That first one was simply a trial run, a training ground for things to come.

God is funny that way. 

Now, fast-forward to today: it has been over 13 years since we were in full time ministry or since I have been called a pastor’s wife. My former-church-planting pastor husband is now a business man, and I am no longer a Youth Minister or a pastor’s wife. I am just Me, a homeschooling mom who leads a small group and volunteers for various things.  We have moved several times and lived in several different states. Instead of depending on the financial generosity of others, we have been blessed enough to be generous ourselves. So no, it is not the life I expected, but it is a good life, a great life even!

However, if I’m honest, it has not always been easy for me to let go of my expectations and embrace our changing path. Ministry life is hard, for sure, but it is also incredibly rewarding. The long hours and scrutiny from others can be frustrating and exhausting, but having a front row seat to watch God work in people’s lives- well, there is nothing else quite like it. Being used by God to draw others to Him? It is humbling and inspiring and all around just awesome! 

And truthfully, there is something about being in ministry that feels important, like you are really making a difference in the world. Letting go of that life wasn’t easy for either of us. 

It is incredibly difficult to keep one’s identity separate from full-time ministry. Our identity is found in Christ alone, it’s true… 

but sometimes, Jesus and the Church can get a little blurry. 

So, there was a period of time where neither of us really knew who we were anymore. When something that is such a huge part of you is no longer there, it leaves a gaping hole. 

John Piper said, “Occasionally weep deeply over the life you hoped would be. Grieve the losses. Then wash your face. Trust God. And embrace the life you have.”

It took us awhile to figure out how to let Jesus fill that hole, and how the rest of our pieces fit together once the ministry pieces were missing. We asked God some hard questions and had to wait a long time for hard answers. We learned to give one another a lot of grace in the midst of needing a lot of grace ourselves. We had to figure out how to move forward into a future that no longer looked like the one we had always imagined. 

Some of you know that feeling even better than we do. Maybe you have lost a child or a spouse or a parent. Perhaps you are shuffling from job to job in an economy that no longer values loyalty and commitment. Whatever the case, the future no longer looks like you always thought it would. It’s like someone turned out the lights and you’re having to feel your way through, step by step.

I call those our Wilderness years. 

We both felt a little lost.

But even in the darkness, our faith in one another, and more importantly, our faith in the One who was still in control remained strong. I never questioned whether or not we would make it- I was confident we would. I just had no idea where we would end up. So we simply kept doing the next thing, trusting God to lead us as we walked with Him, and He did. 

He still does. 

There have been other twists in the road, other struggles along the way. We have lost friendships and gained new ones. We have learned some lessons the hard way. I don’t think either of us ever imagined we would move away and create a life away from our friends and family, but here we are. And if someone had told me all those years ago that I would end up homeschooling four children and loving it, I would have thought they were crazy! 

Sometimes I look back over this road we have traveled and wonder how in the world we got here. This place is so far from where I always thought we’d end up! 

And yet, it was the right path for us. 

We have learned humility, endurance, and obedience. We have found out who we are in Christ, apart from what we do for Him. We have been blessed with a beautiful family and caring friends. We have seen God move in mighty ways, and we have heard His still, small voice whispering in the silence. We have confronted our own weaknesses and learned how to listen better.

This path has taught us what it really means to love.

And 23 years later, I wouldn’t trade those lessons or our journey together for anything in the world.

But, back to his original question: 

If 23-year-old-Me knew how differently our life would turn out, would I still choose him? Or would I have hightailed it out of there and hopped on a plane to the mission field, leaving all the “what ifs” in a cloud of dust behind me?

The answer is simple, really. 

Given the choice, 23-year-old-Me may not have chosen this particular path, but there was never a doubt that he was the One God had chosen for me. Whatever I imagined for our future back then, I certainly couldn’t have imagined a future without him.

23-year-old-Me would have followed him anywhere

So I did.

And I would absolutely choose him again.

Learning to Try

Mom, do I have to go?” he complained.  “Why did you even sign me up for this? I never said I wanted to play the drums!

Yes. You have to go. And you never told me to sign you up for soccer or basketball or drama camp either! Buddy, just trust me. I know you, and I really think this is something you will enjoy!

Okay, fine. But just remember, I didn’t ask for this.

Thirty minutes later, my pre-teen boy walked back down the hall after his first drum lesson. He was standing a little taller and a tiny grin pulled at the corner of his mouth. His teacher said he would send me a link for the drum sticks and book we should order, then fist-bumped my boy, telling him he did a great job and he’d see him next week. 

Yeah, see you next week!” my little drummer boy replied, swooping his hair back and heading for the door.

The whole ride home was filled with non-stop chatter about what they did and what he learned.  He kept asking me if he was going to get a drum set, when he was going to get a drum set, what it was going to look like, and how much it was going to cost. Finally, I made him look me in the eye and say, “Thank you, Mom, for signing me up for drum lessons and making me try something new. You are the best!”

Okay, so I tried. Instead, he laughed and mumbled “Thank you” under his breath… I’ll take it!

And it made me think. 

When is the last time I tried something new?

New things can be scary because there are so many unknowns. What if we aren’t good at whatever we try, or we make mistakes, or people laugh at us? What if it turns out to be a waste of time or money? What if it doesn’t turn out like we hoped? 

These are all valid questions, and worth consideration.

But a better question is, what if it does?

What if you love it? What if you’re good at it? What if you make new friends and learn something about yourself and uncover a new passion you didn’t know was hiding in there? What then?

A little over a month ago, I felt kind of disconnected from myself. It wasn’t anything I could put my finger on; there was just a lot going on and I was sort of numb to it all, like I was going through the motions instead of really living. So, for several days, I spent some time outside by myself. I took several long walks, breathing in the Fall air and listening to the leaves crunch beneath my feet. The sun sparkled across the lake, and then painted the evening sky with splashes of red. I watched as the world around me slowly revealed the fingerprints of its Creator, and something in me came back to life.

And suddenly, I longed to write about it. More than that, I felt CALLED to write.

I used to love to write when I was growing up, mostly sappy poems about broken friendships and the longing for love which only high school girls understand. But I also enjoyed writing papers for school (shh, don’t tell) and letters to friends. Most people signed yearbooks with statements like, “Have a great summer!” and “Don’t ever change!” but not me. No, somewhere out there are dozens of yearbooks with a full page of my handwriting recounting every single memory I treasured and declaring my undying devotion to our friendship. 

Apparently, I was a writer and didn’t even know it. 

Since then, my writing has been limited to my children’s church and youth ministry lessons and a bazillion private prayer journals. I wrote for my own benefit, never with the intention of showing anyone else. I started a book once, but then I had another baby, and somehow I never managed to finish. I blamed it on my responsibilities- how could anyone expect a homeschooling mom of four small children to finish a book? After all, I was doing good to keep them all alive and squeeze in a shower!

But I knew the truth. I didn’t finish because I was scared.

I knew I wasn’t really a writer, I was just someone who loved to write. Is there a difference between the two? Maybe. I think it has something to do with an audience. In any case, I quit trying, which isn’t like me.

I am a firm believer in life-long learning, so I have spent much of my adult life trying new things. I learned how to scrapbook in my 20’s, and I took sewing and tennis lessons in my 30’s. I learned how to grind wheat and bake bread, and how to homeschool my children. And when my kids started in theatre, I even learned how to change someone’s costume and get them back on stage in 12 seconds flat! So I am definitely not afraid to try something new. 

But trying something new with an audience feels a little different. A little scarier.

So I understand how my boy felt walking into his first drum lesson. 

What if I fail? What if I can’t do it right? What if someone laughs at me or I try my best and no one likes it?

What if I write and it doesn’t make a difference?

But then I remember how he looked walking down that hallway, hiding his grin. It didn’t matter to me that he only played the first page in the book, with a rhythm so simple I probably could have played it, too. It didn’t matter to me that no one heard him play except his teacher. It didn’t even matter to me that his first drum lesson didn’t change the world one little bit.

No, what mattered to me, his momma, was those squared up shoulders and that secret grin. What mattered to me was he stepped out in faith and tried something new, even with the risk of failing. He walked in there a scared little boy and came out looking a little more like a man. That’s what mattered to me.

It gives me a glimpse of what might matter to my Father.

I am not really sure why the Lord is calling me to write, but I am confident He is. Writing is not new to me, but writing for an audience, however small, is. 

Like my boy, I did not ask for this. I am being obedient and trying something new. It is scary and I am uncertain. I am clueless about what to write. I am unsure of my ability, but I am offering my availability, which seems to be all He requires. 

I have no idea where it will go from here; I guess that isn’t really the point anyway. The purpose is not in the outcome, but in the learning, in the willingness to try. 

When is the last time you tried something new?

My New Year's Prayer

Lord,

As I turn the page from one year to another, one decade to the next, there are many changes ahead. Some are known and some are unknown. A daughter leaving, a family changing, doors opening and closing before my eyes. 

The evil one whispers all the things that can go wrong. My mind begins to wander down dark, twisting paths where shadows linger and fear lurks. There is so much I cannot control! What if I make the wrong choice? What if it doesn’t happen like I planned? What if they walk away from You? There are so many what ifs…

But then I hear Your voice, a quiet whisper. 

“Do not fear, for I AM with you.” 

Your Spirit blows a fresh breeze of truth, and the darkness scatters like thieves at dawn. You are with me! 

I am not alone on this journey into the unknown. You go before me, shining Your Light onto the path ahead. I do not need to worry about the shadows; I will simply focus on the next step. Your Word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. You will lead me, step by step. 

I reach for Your hand.

I glance back at the past, the road that has brought me to where I stand.  I now see only the blessings, the thread of Your Spirit woven intricately through each hill and valley, guiding me onward, closer to You. I stare in wonder at what You’ve made out of all my wrong turns and attempted short cuts. The dark times are still there, but as they blend into the design of Your tapestry, they are transformed into something more, something greater, something deeper.

Something beautiful. 

I breathe it in, and I am thankful. 

You stand behind me, shield raised, blocking the arrows of regret and shame and missed opportunities and whatever else the evil one can muster. The “what ifs” and “if onlys” lie lifeless on the ground, slain by the only One with the authority to raise them up. 

Yet, You do not. 

You cast them away from me and nudge me forward, into the Light. This is the path You have chosen for me, and I will not choose another!

Slowly, I lift my eyes from this course I travel, and I turn my gaze to You. 

I am reminded that You cannot be confined by our expectations or our calendar.  You are eternal; the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End. You exist outside the bounds of time as we know it, and nothing is hidden from You. Not my past, not my future, nothing! Where can I go from Your Spirit? Where can I flee from Your Presence?

“My child, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

So, when I am consumed by the complexities of the moment, 

or anxious of the days ahead, 

or regretful of the years behind, 

this truth brings me comfort. 

You are the One who was, and is, and is to come!  

My life is in Your hands.

My 2019 Reading Challenge List, Reviews, and Recommendations

As the New Year begins, I find myself tying up loose ends from 2019. I shared in a recent post how I use an Annual Reading Challenge to keep me reading and broaden my choice of books (you can read about that HERE).  Over the past few days, I have spent several hours wrapping up my 2019 reading list and preparing my list for the coming year. 

I just typed and then deleted a whole bunch of stuff because, truth be told, if you are reading this, you probably just want to know which books I read and whether or not I like them. So, I will get to right to it!

Here are my 2019 Reading List, Reviews (or random thoughts), and Recommendations.

Disclaimer: This was not a stellar year of quality book choices for me. There were a few that I loved, a few that I liked, and the rest were fine but not earth-shattering. I had a lot of really good books left on my list at year’s end that I am looking forward to reading this year!

2019 Reading List:

Non-fiction:

  • Finish: Give Yourself the Gift of Done (John Acuff)
  • Meeting Rich: A Litergy. A Legacy. A Man with a Guitar in my Living Room (Caleb J. Cruse)
  • Same Kind of Different As Me (Ron Hall)
  • The BIGS: The Secrets Nobody Tells Students and Young Professionals about How to Find a Great Job, Do a Great Job, Be a Leader, Start a Business, Stay out of Trouble, and Live a Happy Life (Ben Carpenter)
  • Hearts of Fire: Eight Women in the Underground Church and Their Stories of Costly Faith (Voice of the Martyrs)
  • Compassion Without Compromise: How the Gospel Frees Us to Love our Gay Friends Without Losing the Truth (Adam Barr)
  • Ana’s Story: A Journey of Hope (Jenna Bush)
  • *The Screwtape Letters (C.S. Lewis)
  • Dancing on the Head of a Pen: The Practice of a Writing Life (Robert Benson)
  • The Art of Work (Jeff Goins)
  • Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life (Anne Lamott)

Non-Fiction (Parenting):

  • Say Goodbye to Whining, Complaining, and Bad Attitudes in You and Your Kids (Scott Turansky)
  • One Million Arrows: Raising Your Children to Change the World (Julie Ferwerda)
  • Your Boy: Raising a Godly Son in an Ungodly World (Vicki Courtney)

Fiction:

  • A Man Called Ove (Fredrik Backman)
  • The Snow Child (Eowyn Ivey)
  • Austenland (Shannon Hale)
  • In the Heart of the Canyon (Elisabeth Hyde)
  • Becoming Mrs. Lewis (Patti Callahan)
  • Necessary Lies (Diane Chamberlain)
  • Winter Garden (Kristin Hannah)
  • The Women in the Castle (Jessica Shattuck)
  • The Housemaid’s Daughter (Barbara Mutch)

YA Fiction:

  • *Hunger Games series: Hunger Games, Catching Fire, Mockingjay (Suzanne Collins)
  • Speak (Laurie Halse Anderson)
  • Uglies Series- Uglies, Pretties, Specials, Extras (Scott Westerfield)
  • Code Name Verity (Elizabeth Wein)
  • Impossible (Nancy Werlin)
  • The Truth About Forever (Sarah Dressen)
  • Lorien Legacies (I am Number Four) series: I Am Number Four, Power of Six, The Rise of Nine, The Fall of Five, The Revenge of Seven, The Fate of Ten, United as One (Pittacus Lore)
  • The Program series: The Program, The Treatment, The Remedy (Suzanne Young)
  • *Flashback (Keeper of the Lost Cities #7)- Shannon Messenger
  • Legacy (KOTLC #8)- Shannon Messenger

REVIEWS & RECOMMENDATIONS

Didn’t Love:

Of all these books, the only one I didn’t actually finish was The BIGS (and the rest of its really, really long title). tried, I really did! If you are all about making it big in business, no matter what, then this book might be for you. I can usually pull something out of a book that is helpful or applicable, but I had a hard time finding anything relevant in this one.  Also, the author’s voice came off a bit arrogant to me, for whatever reason. So if your reading tastes or life passions are at all similar to mine, skip this one.

Overall Favorite Non-Fiction Books:

The Art of Work by Jeff Goins was the second to last book I read in 2019, and if I had to pick a favorite, this would be it. It is an easy read, fairly short, and super inspiring.  It is a terrific book for college-age students who are searching for their life’s calling and profession, as well as for all those who find themselves longing to do some sort of significant work with their life. Finish is another book in a similar category, which is worth reading if you are good at starting things (like me) but not so good at finishing them (also like me).

Same Kind of Different as Me is a true story, written in novel form, and I loved it. It is the story of two men from very different walks of life who are brought together by God and eventually grow to become family. The perspectives shared and the lessons learned by both men are pertinent to all of us and very inspiring.

Compassion Without Compromise was another favorite. It is co-written by two pastors; one who experiences same-sex attraction and another who has spent many years counseling others who do. It is an honest, insightful, approach to an issue many Christians struggle knowing how to respond to. To me, the authors do a wonderful job of speaking both grace and truth. They give a lot of insight into the true spiritual questions underneath what most people focus on (which applies not just to homosexuality but every other sin!). If you are looking for answers on how to address specific situations, you will not find them here. While they do answer some FAQ’s, most of their answers direct people to pray for God’s guidance in their specific situation and relationship, which I find extremely wise. This is a great book for Christians who love ALL people, but wrestle with how to respond in grace without compromising the truth and authority of Scripture.

Non-Fiction (Parenting):

I liked all of them! The first one (Say Goodbye to Whining, etc…) is one of my all-time favorite parenting books. I have read it multiple times and it never gets old! The last one, Your Boy, has fantastic content, but the edition I have is a bit outdated as so much has changed in recent years, with smart phones and social media. Even so, it is worth reading if you have a pre-teen or teenage son!

Fiction:

If you enjoy historical fiction, there are several books here you should add to your list. Becoming Mrs. Lewis is a delightful, engaging back story of C.S. Lewis’ future wife and their developing friendship turned romance. Necessary Lies is set in the 1960’s on a small town in rural North Carolina. It is an insightful story of compassion, unlikely friendship, and horrors of eugenics.  Winter Garden and The Women in the Castle both stood out in this category as well. My favorite, though, was The Handmaid’s Daughter. Set during a civil war in Africa that was completely unfamiliar to me, this tale of class structure, hidden secrets, friendship, and survival was difficult for me to put down. 

The Snow Child is a sweet retelling of classic Russian fairytale. It was a perfect book to read sitting by the fire on a snowy day, with a mug of hot chocolate! 

And then there is A Man Called Ove. I’ll be honest- this one took a little while to grow on me. The main character’s grumpy, negative attitude was difficult for me at first. But after a few chapters, the old curmudgeon began to grow on me, and I was so glad I didn’t put it down. 

YA Fiction/Fantasy:

I read a lot in this genre during the summer, and usually pull out a few old favorites to re-read, which is how Hunger Games made the list. I won’t highlight it here, but obviously I like it.  I especially enjoy reading series, as it keeps me in the created world a bit longer. I Am Number Four (Lorien Legacies) was surprisingly my favorite YA series this year. It has some sci-fi elements, which I don’t usually love, but which totally worked in this book. The characters were well developed and the story drew me in- I think I read all 7 books in a week and a half! It is a great series for teen boys, which can sometimes be hard to find. 

The Program series was a unique twist on dystopian, centered around Big Money/the government trying to “fix” the depression and suicide epidemic among teenagers. The middle book in the trilogy was weak, but the other two were fun to read. The Uglies series was also enjoyable. Honestly, I think I shied away from it for years because of the name, so I am glad I finally read it. It is typical teen dystopian and somewhat predictable, but that never stops me from being sucked in, and this series was no exception! 

Keeper of the Lost Cities has been a favorite series in our home since the first book came up several years ago. We always pre-order the next release, and then my oldest daughter and I fight over who gets to read it first (she won this year). Legacy was as enjoyable as the others. Several of the scenes were a little too long and wordy, but I’ve gotten used to getting more info than is really necessary in these books- I just chalk it up to good character development! If you follow this series at all, you won’t want to miss this book, as we finally get some answers to a few long-awaited questions.

As stand alone books, both Speak and Code Name Verity were definitely worth reading. They are completely opposite in topic, and I would recommend both books for older teens, due to mature content (Speak addresses date rape) and quite a bit of language. Both authors use a unique writing style, and handle their topics extremely well. Some of my more conservative friends might want to avoid these two. 

TOP FIVE PICKS OF 2019:

So, if I had to pick my top 5 from this year, they would be:

  • The Art of Work
  • Same Kind of Different as Me
  • The Handmaid’s Daughter
  • Becoming Mrs. Lewis
  • Compassion Without Compromise

And there you have it! I already have some fantastic books on my 2020 Reading Challenge list, many that I didn’t get around to reading this past year. I will post that list soon for those who are interested. But if you have some suggestions, I would love to hear them!

The Gift of Hope

It is two days before Christmas. 

A stack of presents sits on the bed waiting to be wrapped. 

There is laundry to be done, food to prepare, and a half-dozen items still left unchecked on my to-do list. Yet, I find myself returning to the gifts. 

I have always loved opening gifts on Christmas morning. When I was a girl, I used to wake up in the early morning hours and sneak into the living room to peak at the gifts before everyone else woke up. Santa never wrapped the gifts he brought, so I would make a quick scan of the room, searching for that special something I had hoped for and making note of anything I thought my brothers might be excited about. Once I had taken assessment of the loot, I would sneak back to my bed and watch the minutes tick by, until it was finally time to get up. 

But it was more than the actual gifts I received; there was something magical about those pre-dawn expeditions to the Christmas tree. The twinkling lights cast a mystical glow over the room, and the packages all looked so beautiful piled one on top of another, each adorned with brightly colored ribbons or bows. I knew I would love the gifts inside, but there was something about the anticipation in those solitary moments that filled those boxes with something else…

Hope.

Soon enough I would find out if all my hinting, asking, and praying had paid off. But in that moment, the real gift was the hope of things to come. The hope of dreams fulfilled. 

Sometimes all we need is a little hope.

I look at these gifts lying on my bed and think about the hope contained in each one. I reach for a football for my little man, and with it I wrap the hope of neighborhood pick-up games and father-son bonding time. Next, there’s an Indoor S’more maker and some board games, each wrapped with layers of family time and the hope of many beautiful, lifelong memories. The socks and shirt for my hubby are enveloped in the hope of good health, resulting in many years of wearing. And the gift cards for our girls seem straight forward enough, but are also packaged with the hope of quality time and great conversations. 

Simple gifts, really, but each wrapped in the hope of so much more.

I think about that Christmas long ago, when Mary watched strangers bring gifts to her baby boy, pondering the mysteries they contained and treasuring those moments in her heart. How her heart must have soared when she opened the chest full of gold; a gift for royalty, stoking her hope in the angel’s promise, that her baby was going to be something more, a King like no other. The frankincense filled her with hope as well- a gift in recognition of the divine role Jesus would play in Israel’s restoration. Her baby really was the Messiah! Oh blessed hope!

But what of the gift of myrrh? Did Mary understand the hope contained in that meaningful gift? I imagine not. Myrrh was used for many things, the most common being an embalming oil. It seems a strange gift for a baby; but it was the perfect gift for a Savior! It was a foreshadowing of His journey to come, and confirmation to us all these years later that none of it was by accident. 

That baby was born so He could die for us. 

He was a simple gift, really, but wrapped in the hope of so much more. He was the hope of things to come, the hope of dreams fulfilled. 

Sometimes all we need is a little hope.

Dancing in the Waiting

I took my boys for their much overdue annual check-ups today. As is the case with most doctor appointments, we found ourselves seated in the waiting area for a good 15 minutes before the nurse called their names.

What do you do with two rambunctious, energetic boys in a waiting room?

Well, let’s see. We played “sticks,” a math game using our fingers, and then played One-Potato-Two-Potato with our feet. After that, Eli dared Noah to stand in the middle of the waiting room and dance in front of everyone. Noah is not one to turn down a dare, so up he went, shaking his bootie for all the world to see. Giggles abounded, and a second dare was quickly issued. Before long, the nurses were peaking around the appointment desk, offering suggestions on different dance moves and clapping along to his songs. We were having so much fun, we almost forgot we were waiting!

Looking back, I feel like I have spent much of my life waiting.

In middle school and high school, I was waiting to be popular (ugh) or waiting for a certain boy to like me (double ugh). Then I was waiting for the Lord to show me which college to go to and what my major should be. There were several years of waiting on the Lord about my future husband- was there someone out there for me? How would I know when I found him? Was this the one for me, or was there someone else?

“Wait on the Lord. Be strong and take heart and wait on the Lord.” Ps. 27:14

So much waiting…

After I married Jeff, we waited on the Lord to direct our path. We waited on Him to show us where to start a church, and then we waited on Him to bring people to our church. And that whole time we were waiting for Him to give us a baby (you can read that story here). 

Once those prayers were answered, there were other things to wait on.

We waited on the Lord to show us the right time to move on and where to go next. We waited on friendships and guidance and more babies. We waited on answers about our calling and the best way to school our children. We waited for the Lord to give us a church home, and spent three years doing family church before He gave us an answer. We waited for ministry opportunities. We waited for the right time to get a new puppy. We waited for wisdom in parenting and wisdom in our marriage and wisdom for life.

We have waited and waited and waited.

But we have also lived.

Yes, the waiting often overwhelmed me to where I couldn’t think about much else. But if the waiting lasted long enough, living was inevitable. I had to do something- I couldn’t just sit around and wait.  

Somewhere along the way, I learned that waiting is more than just sitting.

It is an active verb, not passive.

It was friends living life with me and helping shape my character so I was ready when I found “the One.”

It was story after story of God’s faithfulness in our family and in our church, things only He could do, drawing our hearts to Him, even as we waited. 

 It is Noah dancing in the waiting room, making the most of the “in between” time.

Do I dance in the in between?

Waiting shouldn’t be about focusing so much on what I’m waiting for that I miss what is all around me. No, the Psalmist encourages us to “Wait on the Lord. Be strong and take heart and wait on the Lord. 

God is at work all around us! When I fix my eyes on Jesus instead of whatever I’m waiting on, my perspective shifts. 

When I remind myself of His truths, I am able to release my fear and embrace His peace. Don’t get me wrong; waiting on the Lord is still terribly hard, but it is no longer overwhelming or isolating or paralyzing. 

It transforms waiting into something different. 

It is breathing. 

It is looking outside of my situation.

It is pressing into Jesus and doing the next thing. 

It is embracing the present because I trust Him in the waiting. 

Will we trust Him in the waiting? Will we look for Him in the “in between”? Will we miss the gifts He offers because they are not the ones we are waiting for? Or will we get up out of our chairs, fix our eyes on Jesus, and find a way to dance as we wait on the Lord?

Lord, I trust You in my waiting. Help me dance in the in between.

Investing in Teens, Part 3: Ready to Listen

It never fails.

It’s 3:30 in the afternoon and I realize I have about 30 minutes to myself before I start making dinner. Just as I settle in with my book, my teen plops down on the couch next to me. “Whatcha reading, Mom? Oh, that sounds cool. Hey, did I show you this video I found…”

It’s 11:27 pm and my bed is calling. I finish brushing my teeth and walk into my bedroom, and then hear footsteps in the hallway. “Hey Momma, do you have a minute?” she says…

Why is it my teens never want to talk when I’m ready to listen? It seems like, without fail, they always approach me at the most inconvenient times! 

Oh, that happens to you, too? 

It’s crazy, right?

Last night I listened to a video interview with Craig Groeschel, the pastor of Life.church, on “Raising Biblically Based World Changers.” I already had this blog topic planned, so I perked up when he mentioned how important it is for us to listen to our teens. 

He said, “While young children need our physical presence, teenagers need our emotional presence, but they are not always emotionally available to us. So when they are, we need to drop everything and listen.

He couldn’t be more right.

In the last blog post about listening so teens will talk, I shared some things we can do to ensure that we are actively listening to and communicating with our teens instead of just trying to tell them how much we know. 

Today I want to share a few ways we can make the most of opportunities to get our kids talking, so we’ll be ready to listen when the time comes.

1.  Learn WHEN your teens are most emotionally available so you can listen. 

This may seem silly, but I have found this one thing helps my listening attitude more than anything else. Believe it or not, my patience level at 11:27 p.m. is not super high- I am physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausted by that time in the day. The LAST thing I want to do is spend an hour reminding myself of all the things I need to do to be a good parent while my teen pours out her heart- or at least, that’s the last thing I FEEL like doing.

But the truth is, underneath the feeling, there is actually nothing in the world I would rather do more than listen to my teen’s heart. So learning their rhythms has helped me a lot in preparing my own heart to be ready.  

The best way to do this is simply to pay attention. Make a note of when your teen approaches you for conversation, even seemingly insignificant conversation, like sharing a TikTok video or rehashing some terrible call in last week’s game. Before long, you will likely begin to notice a pattern or a rhythm to when they tend to make themselves available to you. For some it’s after school, or right before dinner, but for many- especially older teens- it’s after 11:00 p.m.  Maybe their defenses come down when they’re tired? That’s my theory. Whatever the reason, it’s pretty much universal, so watch for it!

The important thing, though, is to discern your teen’s rhythms so you can prepare and be emotionally available to them.

2. Learn HOW your teens make themselves emotionally available for you to listen.

Some kids spout their innermost thoughts like a gushing fire hydrant, while others wait for you to pry every single word out of their zippered lips. Some kids process externally, while others process internally. Some are comfortable sharing their feelings, and others, not so much. None of these things are right or wrong; they are simply how your teen tends to communicate. Learning these tendencies is kind of like learning to speak our teen’s language, because they show us the best ways to approach conversations with them. 

Does your teen have a hard time expressing their emotions verbally but like to write? Keeping a shared journal is one way you can help them open up to you. One of our daughters tends to hold her feelings inside. She had an especially difficult time expressing anger and frustration towards us or sharing things that she thought we just wouldn’t understand. Using a journal gave her a chance to open up without feeling disrespectful, as she was able to write down things she never would have had the courage to say in person. It also helped her process her thoughts so she had a better grasp of what she was really feeling, and it gave me time to think and process as well so I could respond with grace and truth. Now it is a beautiful record of our relationship over the years, and she can read those pages to be reminded of how very much her dad and I love her! As she has gotten older, we have made an effort to coach her in expressing herself verbally, but the journal was very helpful for a season.

Our other daughter expresses her feelings almost too easily and hates to write, so the journal idea wouldn’t work for her. Instead, we’ve learned (and are still learning!) that when she gets worked up about something, she is not ready for conversation until she releases all her emotions. Since my husband has thick skin and a higher tolerance for confrontation than me, he likes to poke and prod and help her get it all out, so they can deal with whatever is really going on. I, on the other hand, gently tell her I can tell she’s upset, so she needs to go into another room until she feels better and then I’ll be ready to listen. Okay, so my words often sound gentler in my head than they do out loud, and they are rarely received calmly by her- but we are working on it! Once she calms down, we usually have a great conversation about whatever is going on in her world. 

Some teens find it very difficult to express themselves at all! But that doesn’t mean they don’t need to share. It just means they need someone to invest the time in helping them figure out how to open up. Maybe they like to text, or make videos. Maybe watching a TV show or playing a video game together will allow them (or you) opportunities to bring up topics they would otherwise not talk about.

The important thing is to invest time in learning HOW your teens communicate so you can look for opportunities and be ready to listen.

3. Learn WHERE your teens are most emotionally available so you can listen.

Does your teen love Starbucks? Then buy them a latte and sit down for a chat. Does your teen love baseball? Head to the field. Does your kid avoid one on one conversations? Then wait until you have them trapped! 

Actually, I’m not kidding. Some of the best conversations with teens take place in the car. I have found that teen boys, especially, seem to open up better while riding side by side in a vehicle as opposed to sitting down face to face. I don’t suggest this avenue (ha, get it?!) for bringing up super volatile issues, but many awkward or embarrassing topics (which for boys can mean anything slightly emotional) are much more productive if discussed with some sort of distraction. It could be riding in a car or working on a project together or playing golf- anything that works for you, as long as it gives your teen an opportunity to open up without feeling like they are the center of attention.

Remember, it is still important for them to have your full attention, but just in a way that doesn’t make them feel so self-conscious. 

During his interview, Groeschel mentioned that he has found his teen’s friends often open up to him easier than his own kids. Therefore, he has learned to engage his teen’s friends in conversations, and they eventually join in. If your teen doesn’t always respond well when you initiate conversation, try bringing their friends into it and see what happens! Perhaps they will open up more in a group of friends.

4.  Show your kids you’re ready to listen by keeping communication open.

This is probably the most important thing we can do as parents. No matter what your kids tell you, don’t act surprised, shocked, or disappointed. Don’t be overly antagonistic or judgemental towards their friends. There will be time for those insights, but the best thing we can do when our teens are emotionally available is keep them talking. Ask questions, make connections to their feelings, find out what they think about things, anything. As Groeschel said, “the goal is just to keep them talking. We should shoot for 90% listening and 10% talking.” The more we know, the better we are able to express our love to them, to pray for them, and to offer help or advice when they seek it.

Again, just because I know the importance of being ready to listen to my teens, doesn’t mean I always am. The past few days have been filled with failures on my part in this exact area, so I am definitely preaching to the choir! 

But I won’t stop trying. 

As exhausting as parenting can be some days, our time to speak into our teens lives is limited, and we cannot waste it. But before we can speak, we must be intentional about listening, so they know how much we care. 

When our teens are ready to talk, will we be ready to listen?

Advent: Obedience in the Unexpected

“‘I am the Lord’s servant,’ Mary answered. ‘May it be to me as you have said.’” (Luke 1:38)

This was Mary’s response when an angel suddenly appeared and informed her that she had been chosen by God to carry the long awaited Messiah, the Savior of the world. “I am the Lord’s servant, may it be to me as you have said.”

Is that how we respond to God when unexpected things come our way? 

Because, while we all consider Mary a hero on this side of the story, that title is generally earned by doing really hard things. Being the birth mother of the Messiah could not have been an easy task!

Let’s be real. If the angel were being a little more straightforward, he might have said something like this: 

“Mary, because you’ve been so faithful, God has chosen you for a most difficult assignment. Should you choose to accept this mission, you will endure public ridicule and shame. Your beloved Joseph will most likely believe you betrayed him. Since he’s a nice guy, he might quietly divorce you, but there’s always the risk he will have you stoned to death in the public square instead. On the off chance he sticks around, you know people will be whispering about you wherever you go. You will have to leave your family, your home…

Oh yeah, and this baby? Raising the Son of God will not be as easy as you think. The story will play out a little differently than expected. Eventually people will honor your place in God’s story, but first you must endure the loss of that which you love most. You must place this child on the altar before his heart even flutters within you, and you must promise not to hinder that which will surely shatter your mama-heart. This is a gift of great joy for all the people, but it will cost you tremendous grief.  So… are you in?”

Hmm…

“I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said.”

Now granted, Mary did not know all the trials that lay ahead, but she had to at least know the immediate repercussions of this unexpected announcement.

And still, she chose obedience, without hesitation.

In this season of advent, I am asking myself this question: When God brings me hard assignments, do I respond with such an accepting, obedient heart? With such trusting faith?

Do you?

Cancer.

Miscarriage.

Job loss.

Financial hardship.

Infertility.

Illness.

Pain.

Broken Relationships.

Sudden Loss.

These are hard things. Unexpected things. Seemingly impossible things

But nothing is impossible with God. 

The gospel accounts do not tell us why Mary was chosen to be the mother of Jesus. But the fact that her immediate response was “I am the Lord’s servant” is a good indication of why she found favor with God. My guess is that Mary had proven herself faithful in the little things, day in and day out. She did not search for her identity in her beauty or her father’s name or her future marriage. She did not need the approval of others to define her worth. How do we know? 

Because she was willing to give all those things up without even a moment’s hesitation. 

What was it that enabled Mary to look past her personal sacrifice and welcome the will of the Father? She was the Lord’s servant, and nothing else mattered more than that. She knew the God of her fathers, the God of Abraham and Isaac, the Great I AM, could not be wrong. Her life was in His hands; she could open her heart to Jesus. What had she to fear?

Perhaps we can draw some encouragement from Mary this Christmas.

What hard things are you facing right now? What in your life is not going as you expected? Our heavenly Father can be trusted! Like Mary, we can open our hearts to Jesus, and allow our Savior to usher in the joy and peace that can only be found in Him. We can choose to look past our circumstances, even in the midst of pain and loss, and welcome the will of our Father.

May we say with Mary this Christmas, “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said.”