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Another Friday means another story of friendship, although I’m thinking this will be my last one for a while. Not because I’m out of friends to tell you about but because my blogging time might be less in the coming weeks. Thanks for reading along with these, and if you still want to join in, I’ll be happy to post one of your stories on an upcoming Friday. E-mail me at lmbartelt (at) gmail (dot) com.

Phil and I hadn’t lived here long when I first met Carol. We were still settling in to our new residency in Pennsylvania, to Phil’s role as a seminary student, to my role as a stay-at-home mom when we attended some event at the seminary. I can’t tell you what it was or why we dragged our little family (we had a baby, for crying out loud) to this thing, but I clearly remember sitting at a table with Les and Carol, a pastoral couple in our denomination. (Side note: their last name is Cool, and they are so much cooler than even their name would suggest.)

I remember that I’d just picked up a little writing work for the seminary thanks to a connection with the school’s president, and I was totally proud of myself for still being able to write while taking care of a baby.

We sat at the table with Les and Carol, and they asked us good questions about who we were. I remember declaring myself a writer, and when Les informed me that Carol, too, was a writer, I honestly didn’t know how to respond. I had met few writers outside of the newspapers I worked for in Illinois, so I was a bit stunned to meet one at the same table and within our church’s denomination.

Like all my best friendships, I can’t explain what happened after that. I started attending a writers’ group in the area, which Carol was also a part of, and gradually we would make an effort to meet at Panera (or wherever, but mostly at Panera). We would talk writing and church and books and life.

When I gave my first ever workshop talk at this writers group, I asked Carol, a fabulous speaker, to critique me and give me pointers because I knew I could trust her assessment and take her advice. She has encouraged me as a writer, as a Christian, as a woman with a heart for ministry.

What is so unexpected about this friendship is that, by age, Carol could be my mother. I’ve not had a problem over the years making friends of all ages, but it still surprises me sometimes to find such a good friend of another generation. (That’s a challenge to me, too, to make friends of a younger age.)

When our marriage was on the brink and we were trying to sort out the next steps, Carol and Les talked us through our options, prayed with and for us, and encouraged us to keep on the course God had set for us, even if it was different. Anything I’ve ever told Carol has been met with compassion and understanding. Never judgment or condescension.

She’s the closest thing I have to a mentor, though we’ve never labeled our relationship that way.

When our family was struggling to make ends meet, Carol took me shopping at Costco to buy fruit, and they helped fill our freezer with meat. The year we couldn’t go home for Christmas, they opened their home to us for dinner and games.

She is a passionate advocate for justice who challenges me to make better decisions about where and how I give money and time. (She talks about that on her blog, how ordinary people can make a difference in the world.)

Ultimately, Carol is one of those people I can’t imagine my life without. Had we never moved to Pennsylvania, we never would have met, and my life would be missing something.

(Plus she’s a redhead, which helps me understand our daughter better!)

stripperRequesting a book with a title like this, How to Pick Up a Stripper, is a bit risky. First, your first-grader will try to read the title out loud and you’ll worry that she’ll ask what a “stripper” is and you’ll have to start an uncomfortable conversation. Second, you won’t want to read it in public lest someone get the wrong idea. And third, you’ll be pleasantly surprised to find the content is way more practical than the gimmicky title might suggest. (Disclaimer: I received a free copy of the book from the Booklook Bloggers program in exchange for my review.)

Though Todd Stevens’ wife, Erin, did start a ministry to show kindness to women working in a nearby strip club, the book is less about that particular effort and more about how showing kindness can go a long way in reaching people with the good news of Jesus.

Todd Stevens is the pastor of Nashville’s Friendship Community Church, a group of people who are committed to giving more to their community than they take and showing people God’s love on a daily basis, without strings attached. Their efforts include hosting an Easter Egg hunt for the city, and a separate one a week earlier for parents of special needs children that is just as fun and amazing as the other one; buying lunch for the person behind them in line; catering a meal for the employees of a strip club; and stopping to help stranded motorists. They’ve created a church culture that seeks ways to help people outside of the church walls, for no other reason than to show God’s love. Often those acts of kindness lead people to the church, but it’s not the goal.

It’s such a refreshing approach to outreach, and I found myself, while reading the book, becoming more aware of needs around me. Particularly convicting was Stevens’ commentary on the parable of the Good Samaritan. These words were so convicting, I had to tweet them, mostly so I’d remember it for myself later.

I think that’s my biggest takeaway from this book. That if I’m busy and overcommitted and in a hurry to get from one place to the next, I’ll miss chances to show people kindness in the name of God. And I’m beginning to believe that unless people see more radical acts of kindness from Christians, they won’t listen to any of our words proclaiming good news.

How to Pick Up a Stripper is not a guidebook  with steps to follow about how to start a particular outreach. Instead, it’s a book full of compelling stories about how kindness has changed people’s lives. Add it to your list of must-read books about evangelism. And be ready for questions and strange looks if you take the book out in public.

But maybe that’s the first step in doing something out of the ordinary.

The kids and I are eating dinner at Chick-fil-a tonight, which is not noteworthy since my husband works there and any employee who has been there for more than a month recognizes us when we walk in the door.

What IS new about this is that it’s the first time I’m ordering off the menu while trying to stick to a new eating plan. (Notice I didn’t say “diet.” That’s a dirty word for me.)

See, about three weeks ago, I was diagnosed with high blood pressure. It’s always ridiculously high in the office because I get nervous about doctor’s appointments, but it was so high that my nurse practitioner decided medicine was the best next step. I hate that it’s come to that, but I’m grateful for health coverage and an easy fix. In the meantime, I’m getting to know my new provider really well. I’ve been back several times to check my blood pressure and the medication’s effectiveness, and while it still isn’t where it needs to be, it’s getting better.

That’s a lot of back story for a blog post. Moving on.

While the medicine does its job, I’m trying to do mine by paying better attention to what I’m eating and how much I’m eating and how much exercise I’m getting. You know, the normal stuff I’m supposed to be paying attention to but haven’t been.

And because I’m not a terribly disciplined person, I’ve had to take some actions that lead me toward a more disciplined life. (Just so you know, even typing the word “discipline” makes me uncomfortable. It sounds so structured and binding, and not fun.)

Earlier this year, at the recommendation of my mother, I started using an app called MyFitnessPal to track my calories and activity. Since I’m not a terribly active person right now, either, it helped me set my calories at a level that would help me lose weight.

Then somewhere in the middle of the year, I stopped using it, even after seeing results of 5-7 pounds lost in a couple of months. Nothing drastic, but slow and steady, just the way it should be. I stopped using the app and I stopped caring about what I ate.

By Brian Jimenez | Creative Commons

By Brian Jimenez | Creative Commons

So, when I finally went to the doctor late last month, it was no surprise, really, that my weight was up and my BP was high. Without help, I don’t always take the best care of myself. So, I’m back to using the app, and I’m reading labels, and I’m learning all kinds of things. Like there is a ridiculous amount of sodium in stuff that I normally buy. That calories don’t add up very fast when I’m eating fruits and vegetables. And I can learn to like unsweetened iced tea because drinking all those calories in sweet tea is a bad idea.

And surprisingly, it’s not as scary as I thought it might be. Sure, it’s hard. But there are a couple of things I’m learning that make it easier.

So, whether you’re trying to watch what you eat or be more disciplined about other things in your life, maybe you’ll find this helpful, too.

First, I try not to say “no” completely to anything. I could not eat when we go to Chick-fil-a tonight, but I’d probably be a little sad about it. Yes, it’s just food, but it’s also hard for me to resist a temptation right in front of me. So, if my kids were eating it and wandered away, I’d be likely to steal a waffle fry or ten. So, I wasn’t interested in avoiding eating out at all. The same was true last week when I met a friend at Panera. Normally I’d just get a cinnamon crunch bagel with cream cheese. Instead of defaulting, I ordered a breakfast sandwich with avocado, spinach and egg white. It was delicious.

Related to that, I’m trying to plan ahead, too. So, earlier today I researched the nutrition information for various menu items, and now I can order with confidence without totally blowing my eating plan. Making a plan before I’m in a situation is helpful in a lot of circumstances, not just for eating. This helps me feel like I have some control, not like I’m being denied something by an outside force. That would make me miserable.

Third, I’m trying to set myself up for success. That means buying the good stuff from the grocery store. If I have fruits and vegetables and hummus and lower sodium choices in the house, then I will eat them. If I don’t, I will resort to junk or whatever is convenient.

This is not perfect by any means, nor do I follow it perfectly all the time. I have days where I fail or make decisions that are not the best but I start over the next day and try to do better.

I still don’t like to think of it as discipline, but it’s become necessary for my health, and I’m not hating it.

That’s a win, right?

Is discipline easy or hard for you? How do you stick with a plan?

When MaryLu Tyndall writes a book, you should read it.

When she writes a mermaid story, you should put it at the top of your to-read list.

Tyndall, who is known for historical fiction involving pirates and ships and islands and tropical locations, has ventured into new territory with her latest release, Tears of the Sea. (Disclaimer: I received a free e-copy of the book in exchange for my review.)

First, can we just pause and admire this book cover?

tears of the seaI’m learning to love and appreciate the work that goes into a good book cover, and this one is stunning.

So, the story. Perdita lives a cursed life roaming the ancient seas as a mermaid and for 300 years she has sought to break the curse. Every 10 years, she is given one month on land as a human to find a man willing to die for her. Her heart aches for release and all her efforts thus far have been for nothing. Savion Ryne is a defender of his father’s kingdom and sails to overturn Natas’ rebellion. When he falls off his ship during a storm, Perdita is there to rescue him, though he doesn’t know it. As her time on land approaches, Perdita thinks Savion could be the one to free her, but he resists all her charms. And as the month comes to an end, Perdita will face her toughest choice yet.

Everything I love about Tyndall’s previous stories is present in this one. Characters with strong traits. A plot that never gets dull. Conflict. Tough choices. Highs and lows. (And if you’re a fan of The Little Mermaid, you’ll find some similarities at the start. But this is not a retelling of any story I’m aware of.)

You can read this as just another entertaining story, or you can seek the deeper story Tyndall intends. This is not just a mermaid story but an illustration of eternal love and redemption.

I was eagerly awaiting this story, and I read it in a day. I’d gladly read it again and again.

Tears of the Sea is as beautiful on the pages as it is on the cover. Cozy up with this story as the days get cold. It’ll warm you from the inside out.

 

Fridays are for friendship here, specifically stories of friendship, as a way to celebrate the special people in our lives. You can catch up on past posts by clicking on the “friendship” category at the bottom of this post. And if you have a story you’d like to share, send a paragraph or two to lmbartelt (at) gmail (dot) com and tell us about your friend!

I remember the first time I met Alison, maybe because I was doing my best to not retreat into my introvert shell and actually make a friend at writers group. There I was, sitting in the middle of a row, minding my own business because I hate small talk and there are only so many times you can ask, “So, what do you write?” in one morning. And she walked in, coffee in hand, and asked if the seat near me was taken. Then she moved to take her coat off and I offered to hold her coffee while she did that because folding chairs are notoriously unreliable at holding hot coffee and hot coffee is a precious commodity on a cold Saturday morning.

Coffee was the door to conversation. I know this now because we’re both introverts. When I think about our friendship, it’s definitely a God-thing that we ever got to know each other in the first place. So, we did the chit-chat thing, discovered we both had young children and–surprise of surprises!–both had been journalists in another life. In my mind, we were already the best of friends. She didn’t run screaming from the room when I asked if I could find her on Facebook since writers group was only once a month and we lived about an hour apart.

All of this I remember clearly. How our friendship actually developed after that escapes me. We would see each other occasionally at those writers group meetings and at the larger gathering one-day conference, and eventually we found each other on Facebook, so I suppose there was some kind of natural progression of getting to know each other.

But it really wasn’t until our family moved to Lancaster last year that I truly discovered that Alison and I are kindred spirits. (I have several people I would put in this category, but it still surprises me when I find someone who fits.)

Here’s why I consider Alison among that group: She’s a writer, so she automatically gets all the craziness in my head. And she’s good at it, even though she doubts. (Um, that is SO familiar! And by the way, you should read her blog.) She is passionate about important things like orphans and adoption and justice, and she’s so passionate that she doesn’t just talk a good game, she does stuff about it and feels like it’s never enough. You want to know her heart? Just talk to her about Rwanda. You’ll see it.

She is married to a silly husband, something I thought was my curse blessing alone. (I desperately want our husbands to be friends, but they’ve only met once and I don’t want to seem pushy.)

Alison appreciates a good hot drink, and now that we both have some kid-free time during the week, we’re able to meet for hot drinks all by ourselves with no responsibilities for a few hours.

She is encouraging, intelligent and authentic. I am so comfortable with Alison that I would tell her just about anything. When we’ve had a coffee/Panera date, I walk away refreshed. Neither of us is perfect or living our lives exactly the way we want. We both struggle with some things that leave us frustrated. But our time together is one of the highlights of us moving to Lancaster.

Sadly, we do not have a picture together either, something I’m finding I must remedy with lots of friends. (I mean, it’s not like there’s a camera on my phone or anything and I don’t go anywhere without it.)

Not all friends have to be kindred spirits, but I think it’s good to have at least one. Do you have a friend like this?

I never used to be a person who jumped at the chance to read a Ted Dekker book, but when I read a book of his earlier this year, my heart was changed, and I am a new fan. His latest book, A.D. 30 is not the sort of book I would expect from Dekker, who is known for more thriller borderline horror types of stories, but it is one of the best biblical fiction books I have read. (Disclaimer: I received a free copy of the book in exchange for my review.)

AD30-211x300This story of Maviah, the outcast daughter of a Bedouin ruler, is epic. And I mean that in the literary sense. Maviah is an unlikely hero sent to deliver a message to save her people. But along the way, she is diverted from her mission, which proves as dangerous as she imagined. But on this journey, she also encounters Yeshua, and her world tilts again.

I could not stop reading this story. It lives up to my standards for biblical fiction–of bringing familiar characters to life and engaging my imagination for life in biblical times.

My only complaint is that I did not realize this book would be continued in a sequel, A.D. 33, so I was not prepared for the end. It comes to a conclusion, yes, but not in the sense that the story is over. I am completely hooked to the plot and characters and will eagerly await the next installment of the story.

I am fascinated by Dekker’s ability to write in first-person from a female character’s perspective. But it’s believable and captivating. I could read this book again and again just to savor the sentences and story flow.

An unexpected but marvelous story from Dekker. If you’re like me and have never given his books a chance, change that with this book.

Also, Maviah’s story was not the only hook. Dekker’s explanation for how this story came about hit on where I’m at with my spiritual journey. And the story backs that up.

Check out the trailer below. And find out more about the author here.

Have you read any Ted Dekker books? What ones would you recommend?

In the late ’90s, a British band called Chumbawamba filled the radio waves with these words:

I get knocked down

But I get up again

You’re never gonna keep me down

It was a drinking song, mostly, with a festive beat perfect for party atmospheres. (I was present at a few of those back in the day and now I’m old.)

Such confidence in the words: “I get knocked down, but I get up again. You’re never gonna keep me down.”

But they’re such a lie. Not that I expected to find truth from a band whose name sounds like a bubble gum brand or gibberish.

The truth is getting knocked down hurts.

And getting back up again is hard. 

And sometimes, it’s tempting to want to stay down. Because what if I get back up and then get knocked down again? Won’t that hurt more?

To say our family experienced a fall seems an understatement. Like saying Humpty Dumpty tripped. I’m not sure I realized at the time, now four-and-a-half years ago, just how far we’d fallen. Or how hard it would be to get up again.

And I certainly didn’t consider that falling, which seemed to happen so fast, meant we’d somehow have to make up the distance between where we landed and where the fall happened.

Staying down never seemed like an option. But that was before we started climbing.

climb

For the inexperienced and untrained, climbing requires strength, muscles we might rediscover along the way. And it might take time. We’re not going to climb a mountain or crawl out of a pit in an hour.

It might be days, weeks, years.

There will be pain. Fatigue. Disappointment. Discouragement. Bitterness. Despair. Blame.

But no matter how the fall happened, the circumstances that led to it, the final step over the edge, the reality is it happened. And time can’t be reversed so it was otherwise.

When you find yourself at the bottom of a pit, for whatever the reason, the only way to go is up.

Staying down is admitting defeat. It might as well be a death sentence.

When we’re down, all we want is a way out. Rescue. I want someone to throw me a rope and lift me out of my trouble.

But even then, I don’t want to be the one to do all the work required to get out. I still might have to hold on and climb. I still have to believe it’s possible.summer

I want to think that getting back up after falling down is glamorous. That restoration is immediate.

What I’m learning is that it’s less like a dramatic movie rescue and more like clawing your way up out of the dirt. It’s a slow crawl into light. It’s squinting at the brightness when all you’ve known is darkness. It’s finding your feet again and re-learning how to walk. It’s pressing on, even when you slide back and feel like you’re losing ground. It’s inner strength and internal drive. It’s heart, mind and body working together to get to the place you were before.

And beyond.

When I think about our situation, I don’t want to go back to where we were before the fall. I don’t want to fight for what was but to strive for what could be. I want to climb out of the pit, rest on the plateau and then tackle the mountain.

Still, it takes work.

And for some reason, I didn’t expect that part of it. Or I wanted it to happen at a quicker pace. Or on my terms.

But all significant change takes time.

Seeds take root and become plants, but it doesn’t happen overnight. The tallest trees were once seeds and now stand as living testaments to the beauty of growth over time.

Buildings begin with a solid foundation, then walls and support beams and a roof. Who would decorate a house on the inside before the roof was finished?

Even Jesus’ resurrection from the dead required a whole day in between. (Couldn’t He have risen immediately? I’m not debating theology here, just curious.) And the Kingdom He started with that revolutionary act is still being built.

Why should my own resurrection be any different?

So maybe Chumbawumba had it right after all.

No one will get through life without falling.

It’s what we do after the fall that matters. <Tweet that>

Will we stay down and curse the ground on which we lie? Will we search the skies for rescue, praying and hoping for help to come, for someone else to do the hard work of getting us out? Or will we choose to start climbing? To determine to NOT stay down. To dig our hands into the rocks and dirt and pull with everything we’ve got. Will we struggle to the top, weary and with shaking arms and legs, having spent every ounce of strength, with bloodied and dirtied hands, covered in sweat?

Will we hang on just a little longer when everything in us wants to let go? (There is a time to let go, but make sure it’s the right time.)

hang on

Because while it’s true that restoration makes us new, that doesn’t mean it’s easy. It is grueling work to get back up and not stay down.

So whether you’ve fallen or grown discouraged or are on the verge of giving up on something or someone, consider how far you’ve already come.

Measure the distance between the ground where you fell and your proximity to the light. Choose to keep going toward the light, whatever that might be. A dream. A goal. Healing. Wholeness.

Get back up again.

Don’t let anything keep you down.

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