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.
Here is a post from our oldest daughter, Sarah, who is a Senior in high school. I am so thankful for how she seeks to follow Jesus and her willingness to share what He is teaching her. I hope this will be a blessing to you today!
The sunrise from the Friday of JTF promising His grace and faithfulness going into that weekend, because I didn’t get a picture of the sunset promise from tonight. 🙂
There’s been a lot of self-reflection happening lately, as I’ve officially moved out of something that’s been a huge part of my life and I am preparing to move to an even bigger, new part of life. The Lord has been so faithful in this season.
This week I met up with some adults who’ve been walking through this year with me specifically to look back at the start of this season, see how far I’ve come, and celebrate His faithfulness. One of them asked me, “What now? What’s your new mountain you need Him to help you climb?” Some struggles with my mentality, how my personality plays into it, and lies I’ve been believing came to mind.
I know, I know, some of you are thinking, “There is no way parenting is like math! There is no easy formula to follow, and no variables to plug in that equal a perfect child.”
And some of you are thinking, “Yes! Parenting is hard! Math is hard! I get it!”
And you’re right, too.
So if you’re both right, then what in the world am I talking about?
Just hear me out…
One of the things I love best about homeschooling is watching the light bulb come on when something “clicks” for one of my kids. This phenomenon is not unique to homeschooling- all parents experience this with their children in different ways. Maybe you are helping them with homework, or teaching them how to shoot a basketball, or even teaching them how to talk when they are little. There is something special about that first time they say your name, make a basket, or solve the math problem. Their eyes get big, their face lights up, and something special passes between you. Success! It is an amazing moment to share.
But those moments are rare, like finding a single pearl hidden somewhere among an ocean of oysters. It takes hard work, perseverance, and is often overwhelming. And in my experience, they usually come about the time I have decided to give up.
I find parenting to work much the same way. There are moments when they get it, when the hard work of character training and spiritual investment align in some sort of magical moment, and we get to high five each other for a job well done. But if your house is anything like mine, before the party’s over, another issue or growth area pops up, waiting to be whacked, and the challenge begins again. Sometimes it’s even the same problem, the one we were just celebrating- apparently prematurely. What’s a parent to do?
Which brings us back to math. I’ll be honest- I like math, I really do. It has a rhythm and a reason to it; it is logical. It’s like doing a puzzle; you keep the big picture in mind, but mostly you figure out how to fit things together piece by piece, until the picture finally appears. Sounds simple enough.
However, in teaching math to my children I have found it is not always that easy. Sometimes they don’t catch the rhythm, and often they can’t see the logic. So here are a few things I have learned that apply to both parenting and math:
1. It takes more than one time to learn a lesson.
I’ll be honest; this one caught me completely off guard. I assumed once a child learned long division and experienced the “light bulb” moment, we could check the box, right? No. Apparently kids can completely understand something one moment and then forget everything they know three problems later. It’s a real thing- ask any teacher in your life. It takes more than one time to learn a lesson, even when you learn it well.
The same is true in parenting. “Obey the first time” is an ideal, not a reality. I mean, do you always obey God the very first time every single time? I certainly don’t! Believe it or not, we will have to teach our kids patience and kindness more than once. We know hitting their brother or talking back is wrong every time, but in their mind, that lesson requires multiple applications to every possible situation before it sinks in. It is not personal against us or limited to only our child. It’s just like math; it takes more than one time to master a concept, which requires… practice and repetition.
2. Practice and repetition are necessary for mastery
The idea is that the more you repeat something, the easier it will become. In math, there are two parts to learning basic “facts,” such as addition and multiplication. One must both understand the concept (2 cookies plus 3 cookies equals 5 cookies) and memorize the equation (2+3=5). The first one takes practice, over and over, to truly understand the concept, applying it to different values. The second one requires repetition of the same equation, again and again, until the answer is instinctive.
How does this idea translate to parenting? There are certain concepts our child will have to repeat over and over again, with a number of different variables, in order to truly grasp the character traits involved. There is no substitution for practicing; we simply must be patient and consistent and understand it is a process. There are other truths they simply need to hear repeated over and over again until they become instinctive. These truths are foundational to the building of their faith and character, just as math facts are foundational to algebra equations. Choose them carefully and repeat them often!
3. Getting frustrated and angry doesn’t help
Let’s be honest- frustration is inevitable in both math and parenting. However, an angry, yelling parent is not any more effective than a child throwing his pencil in frustration.
One day several years ago, I was helping one of my daughters with her math. I was frustrated because she had “forgotten” a concept she already learned (see #1), and she was not responding well to my extremely calm, patient, loving instruction (in other words, she was being a sassy pants and I was reacting like a pre-teen girl). I said something like, “You would never treat a teacher this way, would you?” and she yelled back, “No, because a teacher would never treat me like you are!”
Ouch. She was right.
So when you find yourself getting frustrated– in math or in parenting- the best thing to do is…
4. Take a break and try a different approach
Sometimes the best thing for everyone is a little break. Take a time-out, move on to a different subject, walk outside- whatever it takes to catch your breath and calm down. And then when you are ready, you can approach the problem again from a different angle.
As the saying goes, if we do the same thing over and over again, we’re going to keep getting the same result. If something isn’t working, whether it is a math problem or a character issue, try something different.
Once I quit focusing on how I wanted her to solve the problem and started thinking about how she was trying to solve the problem, I usually saw a new way to approach it. The same is true in our parenting. We can solve a multitude of problems by simply shifting our perspectives.
5. Go back to the basics
More often than not, when my kids are getting wrong answers in math, it is because they have forgotten their math facts (see #2). Those foundational truths have gotten rusty and are no longer instinctive, causing them to spend too long figuring out a problem or guessing at numbers. A quick review of the basics generally gets them back on track with minimal interference from me.
The same is true with parenting. When our children were really little and we suddenly found ourselves with sleep issues or attitude problems, a friend suggested I simplify our schedule and focus on structure, consistency, and my own attitude- the basics. The issues almost always resolved within a few days.
As they have gotten older, we shift our focus back to heart issues- character, prayer, time in the Word, honoring others over ourselves… all those things we spent so much time “repeating” when they were younger. Okay, and cleaning a toilet often helps, too!
6. If all else fails, ask for help
Even with our best efforts, sometimes we don’t have what we need to figure it out. In math, that means reaching out to a teacher or a tutor- finding someone who can see things we can’t and who can provide outside perspective we are not able to see or give on our own.
More than once as a parent, I have been at my wits end, having tried everything I knew to try (usually that was my problem- I was trying to fix something that was not within my power to fix! But that’s a whole different blog post!). Assuming you have already spent time in prayer, the best thing to do is get help. Reach out to a friend whose parenting you respect and admire. Seek godly counsel from a pastor or staff member at your church, or ask them to help you find a solid, Biblical counselor who can give you perspective on your situation. There is no shame in asking for help. People get tutors, hire personal trainers, and visit professionals in various fields all the time. Your children are your greatest investment on this earth. Seek help if you need it!
So… no, there is no formula to follow that will give you a perfect child. And yes, math can be really hard and so can parenting! Both are true. Therefore, instead of wasting time worrying about them, maybe we can learn something from one that will help us with the other, trusting that God will meet us in our efforts to draw their hearts towards Him.
“Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and He will give you everything you need.” Luke 12:31 (NLT)
Well friends, I am off to a slow start on writing this year. Thanks for being patient with me! Now that my 30-day writing challenge is over, it has been more difficult for me to stay motivated and disciplined, especially with Jeff traveling so much and the craziness that comes with four kids. But I have been reading a lot, so maybe I can start there!
I still need to add a few more books to my 2020 Reading Challenge list; I will post it once I have it organized. For now, I will share my current book stack with you.
I am kicking off the year with these six books solely because they are the ones I have access to right now. I already own four of them, and I was on the waiting list at the library for the two writing books while I was doing my writing challenge. I don’t usually read more than one book at a time, so this stack is a little deceiving. I do, however, like to have a devotional (or Christian non-fiction) book that I read during my prayer time, as well as another book to read in my free time.
The Armor of God for Teens book is actually a Bible study that I am doing with my Senior small group girls. It is fantastic- one of the best studies I have ever done with teen girls- so I am excited about finishing it!
None Like Him focuses on different attributes of God, and it was my first devotional book this year. The author, Jen Wilkins, is one of my favorite writers of Women’s Bible studies because she is so committed to accurate Scriptural context and interpretation. I find that many popular authors and speakers today gain a following based on little more than their personality, and too many women are being led into a false or twisted understanding of Scripture simply because the authors are so likable. Jen Wilkins is both relatable and solid in her teaching, and I highly recommend her books. I read In His Image last year and loved it.
Parenting: 14 Gospel Principles that Can Radically Change Your Family– I bought this book several months ago after reading some of Paul David Tripp’s other material. It is more of a philosophical book than a how-to manual, so I am interested to see what insights he has to share. I started it this morning- I will let you know what I think!
Stephen King’s, On Writing, is part memoir and part instruction. I enjoyed reading about his childhood and pathway to becoming an author. His instructions on writing are geared towards fiction writers, as that is obviously his area of expertise. Since I don’t write fiction, that wasn’t very helpful to me, but there were still plenty of tips I hope to apply to my writing, and overall it was enjoyable.
The Tattooist of Aushwitz is a true account of a young Jewish man who found himself tattooing numbers into the arms of those who arrived at Aushwitz and how that job enabled him (and others) to stay alive amidst the horrors surrounding them. It is also a love story, sharing how he fell in love with a young woman at the camp, and their struggle to survive in hopes of a future together. It reads like historical fiction, but is even more impactful since it is a true story.
Finally, I just finished On Writing Well by William Zinsser. Much of the material is similar to what I already read in King’s book, so I found myself skimming quite a bit. This book is geared towards non-fiction writers, thus it was more applicable to my writing than King’s book. While I am glad I read it, I was also glad to finish it! I doubt I will ever read it again.
And that’s it! Those are my January books. Hopefully I can squeeze in one or two more before the end of the month.
What about you? What books are currently on your nightstand?
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.
“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.
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.
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,
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:
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)
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)
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)
*Hunger Games series: Hunger Games, Catching Fire, Mockingjay (Suzanne Collins)
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
Of all these books, the only one I didn’t actually finish was The BIGS (and the rest of its really, really long title). I 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.
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!
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.
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!
Maybe it is because I played soccer on boys teams, or because I grew up with brothers, or because I read a lot as a child and have an adventurous heart. Whatever the reason, I have always found it difficult to turn down a challenge!
All these years later, I am finding that to work in my favor…
I know a lot of people make resolutions this time of year, but they don’t work out very well for me. I am kind of an all or nothing person, so when life gets in the way, as it inevitably does, I end up throwing my hands in the air and bumping my resolutions to the curb like last week’s trash.
However, I do much better with a challenge! There is something inherent in a challenge that brings out my competitive nature and renders me much more likely to succeed.
So, over the past few years I have found myself participating in a variety of challenges: I have participated in 30 days of praying, de-cluttering, detoxing, and more. This year, around Thanksgiving, the Lord put it on my heart to start writing more intentionally, so I began a 30 day challenge to write at least 500 words a day. You can read about that HERE and HERE (and you have that to thank for this blog post!).
My favorite challenge, though, is my annual Reading Challenge. I used to love to read, but somewhere along the way, between work and children and adulting, life got busy and it slipped through the cracks. One of the things I appreciate most about homeschooling our children is that it reminded me of my love of reading. Having a daughter who loved to read helped, too, because I previewed a lot of books for her, which gave us a special way to connect.
At first I mostly read things my friends (and my daughter) recommended, but then one year I stumbled across the idea of a reading challenge. I quickly found out there are at least a bazillion different ways to do it! So I ended up creating my own. I decided to use it as a way to keep from getting stuck in my usual genres and stretch myself into intentionally reading other things.
I still take recommendations, but I make sure to include biographies, classics, historical fiction, and non-fiction books, as well as a couple written from a different viewpoint than mine (politically, spiritually, etc). I like to add some fun categories, like a book with the setting as your hometown, a book written by someone you know, or a book centered around somewhere you plan to travel. This year I am also adding several books on writing, and then I will fill in the rest of my list with my go-to genres: Christian non-fiction and my favorite, YA fantasy/dystopian fiction (don’t judge me, it’s my guilty pleasure!). My list is fluid; I add to it throughout the year as I get new suggestions or pick up a new book, and I rarely read everything on it. That’s okay, though- those books become the base for next year’s list!
I check out the majority of my books from the library (I am still a sucker for paper books; can’t quite transition to the kindle yet), and I use Goodreads to create my lists and track my progress. It is also a great resource for reading reviews to determine if I want to read something, as well as for finding similar books when I really like a subject or an author. I haven’t quite made it to reading a book a week yet, but I am still amazed to finish the year and find I checked off 45+ books! I think my goal the first year was 20 books, so that’s quite an improvement!
And there was a year or two early on when I didn’t meet my goal, so if that is you, don’t be discouraged. Just remind yourself that whatever you accomplish is better than not accomplishing anything- this is a challenge after all, not a resolution!
In my next post, I will share my 2019 reading list and some of my thoughts about the books, including which ones I recommend and which ones I didn’t like at all (there was only one). But I couldn’t end this post without sharing a few of the gems that I found through some of my previous Reading Challenges! These are books I highly recommend that I would probably never have read without the incentive and intentionality of a reading challenge:
The Nightingale (Kristen Hannah)
Lilac Girls (Martha Hall Kelly)
The Kite Runner (Khaled Hosseini)
The Swan House (Elizabeth Musser)
Fearless (Eric Blehm)
The Glass Castle (Jeannette Walls)
Under our Skin (Benjamin Watson)
Unbroken (Laura Hillenbrand)
Choosing to See (Mary Beth Chapman)
Missing Kylie (Mark Myers)
And there are a few more on my 2019 list, so be sure to check out my 2019 Reading Challenge Year End Review, coming soon!
What about you? If resolutions are not really your thing but you have a competitive streak, perhaps you may be up for a Challenge. I’d love to hear about it!