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Archive for August, 2012

When a historical preservationist inherits an old inn on Hope Beach in the Outer Banks, she gains a load of trouble, too. Libby learns of her inheritance — and a brother and sister she never knew she had — from her friend and business partner, who is kidnapped as Libby watches on a beach cam. Libby heads straight for Hope Beach to search for her friend, claim her inheritance and discover her future.

Colleen Coble’s Tidewater Inn is full of suspense, mystery and, of course, romance. What I love about Coble’s books is that they’re a good blend of all three. Of the four Coble books I’ve read, I enjoyed this one the best. Libby is searching in lots of ways, and her struggles to find family, purpose and identity are universal. Coble has a way of transporting readers to her destinations, and suddenly a vacation to the Outer Banks is on my “someday” list.

If you’re looking for an escape, and don’t mind a little trouble in paradise, pick up Tidewater Inn. As summer comes to a close, a virtual trip to the seaside might be just the thing to let the season linger longer.

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As part of the Booksneeze program, I received an electronic copy of Tidewater Inn free from Thomas Nelson Publishers in exchange for this review.

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Last week, two days after minor outpatient knee surgery, my husband limped into church with his knee bulging with bandages.

He drew quite a bit of attention, including questions like: “What’d you do?” and “Get in a fight?” and, my personal favorite, “She kick you?” (Yes, all 5’4″ of me kicked my 6’0″  husband hard enough to make him limp and send him to the hospital.)

They were concerned and like family, that sometimes comes out with humor. Even this week, people asked about his knee.

Funny, isn’t it, how easy it is to ask and answer when the wounds are physical.

The same day people were asking my husband about his knee, I was spiritually and emotionally limping into church, carefully preparing an answer to the “how are you?” question that was honest yet not overwhelming. Because frankly, I’m not fine. Or good. Or okay. But I say those things to protect myself from an all-out public cryfest.

Because if I answered honestly, I’d be a puddle of tears, and I might not stop crying. And you might hear me doubt God. And wonder if He’s there. And question whether He’s good. And lament our lot, for now.  And for some reason I think those things aren’t appropriate for church.

Am I the only one who puts on an everything’s-fine face on Sunday mornings?

My husband’s recent surgery and church attendance make me wonder how many of us there are. How many of us are limping on the inside but walking tall on the outside? How many of us are feeling not quite right and need some rest but don’t feel like that’s a good excuse to miss church or Sunday School? How many of us are desperate for someone to really ask us about our internal wounds and at the same time scared that if they do they might regret it? (You can’t see me, but I’m raising my hands yelling, “Me! Me! Me!”)

This isn’t the first time I’ve wondered this.

And I still wonder what to do about it. Do I just let it all out? Do I admit that this is definitely NOT how I envisioned life after seminary? That even though I’ll be a pastor’s wife someday, I’m not all that happy with God right now?

I have people who know these things; people I run to when I just need to say, “Life sucks!” But I feel like a fraud when I appear to have it all under control on Sunday mornings. Because I am so. not. in. control.

I have not lost faith. I won’t lose faith. Because Jesus has changed my life in incredible, impossible ways. He means too much to me to give Him up.

I am wrestling, though. Wandering in a desert that seems to be without end. Clinging to the slimmest of margins. Trusting in what looks impossible by human standards.

And that’s not always pretty.

So, accept my apology for putting on a happy face when I feel anything but happy. Forgive my feeble attempts to convince you I’m fine when I’m not.

Teach me how to let you in so I don’t feel like a fake. Help me to show you my wounds without shame.

And let me do the same for you.

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I’ve been writing often about rough times, and the more I connect and reconnect with people, the more I’m seeing that tough times are all around. A lot of people are suffering. Struggling. Surviving. Or barely so.

So, instead of a list of things that made me smile this week, let me share with you a few things that sustained me this week. If you’re having hard times, know that you’re not alone. We’re in this together. And we will make it through.

Played needtobreathe on the iPod recently while washing dishes or cooking or something in the kitchen. Felt this song in my soul.

It’s been like a prayer lately. “Yes, Lord. Give me the faith to believe in these hard times.”

And last night, as I read the Book of Common Prayer during my devotional time, I found comfort in these words:

“Be present, O merciful God, and protect us through the hours of this night, so that we who are wearied by the changes and chances of this life may rest in your eternal changelessness; through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (emphasis added)

And:

“Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or weep this night, and give your angels charge over those who sleep. Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the joyous; and all for your love’s sake.”

And a reminder, in a year-old copy of a magazine given by a friend, that instead of focusing on the size of my mountain to be moved, I should focus on the size of the Mountain Mover.

I worry too much and pray too little.

Jesus, help me turn that around.

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A few months ago, I took a spiritual gifts test as part of a Bible study I was leading. Traditionally, I’ve been a teacher and encourager, mostly. So, imagine my surprise when one of my results was pastoring/shepherding.

To some of you, that may not be reason for shock or embarrassment, but as someone who has spiritually grown up in a church and denomination that does not ordain women as pastors (and in some ways interprets that to exclude women from any kind of leadership position), I didn’t know what to do with that information. I tried to explain it away as being a gift I picked up from my husband who was in seminary at the time.

But when I read about the gift and talked about it with my husband, I realized I had no reason to fear or be embarrassed.

Our views — my husband’s and mine – of women in ministry have evolved over the last four years, and I’m much more open to the idea of women as pastors, leaders and teachers than I ever used to be.

And after reading The Resignation of Eve by Jim Henderson, I’m inspired and impassioned to encourage women in using their gifts in the church, whatever those gifts may be.

Henderson presents a “what if?” scenario. What if all the women in your church suddenly didn’t show up one Sunday? What roles would be missing? What wouldn’t get done?

That, itself, is an interesting proposition. At our current church, the answer would be: a lot. I thought of that on Sunday at church as I looked around at the pianist, the teachers, the congregants and greeters. Our church is not devoid of men, but women certainly contribute their more-than-fair share.

Henderson proposes that women are the backbone of the church yet are, in some communities and denominations, not allowed to hold leadership positions or become pastors. Using statistics from a survey of women and the personal stories of women he interviewed, Henderson explores this controversial issue. And he does so with humor, grace and compassion.

I loved this book. Five years ago, I wouldn’t have even picked it up. Even three years ago, I might have thought him crazy to even consider such a topic. Now, though, I’ve met women — Jesus-loving, compassionate, intelligent, committed women — who are called to be pastors. Who ARE pastors. And my mind is no longer closed to the idea.

It’s a book that will challenge you. Maybe even make you mad. I guess what I appreciate most is that it opens discussion. And sheds light on a topic some people refuse to talk about.

Read at your own risk. And with an open mind.

Here’s chapter 1 to get you started.

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It’s my husband’s birthday today. To celebrate, he had knee surgery on Friday. So, his birthday weekend has been part celebration, part recuperation, total exhaustion.

So, even though he’s been taking narcotic painkillers and resting on the couch most of the weekend, I enticed him out of the house for a birthday date night: matinée showing of The Dark Knight Rises and never-ending pasta bowls at The Olive Garden.

While birthdays usually give me reason to reflect on the people I love (see this post about my mom for her birthday, which is also today) the surgery and recovery have made me extra-reflective. Words are my gift, and often that feels cheap. I won’t offer excuses for chances to brag on the people I love, though.

I used to think I was independent. Sometimes I still am. But I’ve learned that it’s okay to be dependent. And I’m definitely dependent on my husband. I had to take out the garbage this weekend, which was no big deal really, just something he usually does. (I don’t care how liberated or equal women are; garbage will always be a man’s job in my world.) And he’s my emotional — and sometimes physical — backup when the kids are getting out of hand. This weekend, I had to handle much of the discipline and control myself. Even if Phil was physically present, he couldn’t always assist. I’m thankful for the partnership in this.

I’ve highlighted this before, but my husband is amazingly creative at repurposing leftovers and making something out of the random contents of our cupboards. This weekend, he thought to take leftover beef  tongue (yes, you read that right) and turn it into a Philly cheese steak type of sandwich. It was better than the first go at beef tongue (which really wasn’t that bad, either).

He loves to read, almost as much as I do, and we share snippets of what we’re reading with each other. (And he watches Downton Abbey with me. I don’t even have to twist his arm.)

He doesn’t give up even when the chips are down, as they say. He has diligently, faithfully searched for jobs and sent out resumes for months. We might finally have a lead. And he’s comfortable enough with our relationship and trusts in God’s provision to let me work when I have opportunity. We are equal partners, and I love him for that.  We’re a team. And he’s sometimes more passionate about me following my dreams than I am. He believes in me and in the gifts God has given me.

He is firm and loving with his kids. He cares enough about his daughter’s modesty and manners to instruct her to keep her dress down and close the bathroom door when she’s going potty. He steps in to correct our son when he’s playing too rough with the ladies in his life. And he wrestles the ornery out of him before bedtime.

He dreams big and has visions for life and ministry. He keeps me going when I can’t see through the fog of uncertainty.

He’s got better fashion sense than I do. He wouldn’t necessarily give Clinton Kelly a run for his money on What Not to Wear, but he also probably would never end up on that show in the first place.

He feeds my spirit of adventure. Watching the Olympics pained us both because we’d love to travel to Europe together. (We’ve both been there before we knew each other.) We want to see the world and experience culture. And do that together.

He loves Jesus enough to turn down a job interview to sell life insurance. Not that there’s anything wrong with selling life insurance, but the presentation he heard focused so much on temporal security that he felt he couldn’t offer that without talking about eternal life. (There were more reasons than that to turn down the job interview, but this is the one that impressed me.)

He appreciates my extended family like family. He loves his extended family. He cares about keeping people connected. He’s a loyal friend and a confidante.

He’s not perfect, by any means, and we have our ups and downs like everyone.

He is, however, perfect for me, and I’m glad as ever that God intertwined our lives to make one life to live for Him. (Okay, it’s late and I’m giggling over the idea of a Christian soap opera titled One Life to Live for God.)

Happy birthday, Phil. You’re still the one for me.

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Hubby had surgery on his knee on Friday, so we’re in the recuperation fog right now. I find myself in the role of nurse/caregiver and after only two days, I want to say to all of you who do this a) for a living and b) full time for a loved one: YOU ARE AMAZING. I’m tired, worn-out and feeling my selfishness rear its ugly head more often than not. So, I smile thinking of all the people with compassionate bedside manner who lovingly care for strangers and family and do it willingly and joyfully. I am not that person, and that is okay.

Thankfully, we have family to help us, which also makes me smile because without them the children would pretty much have no attention given to them whatsoever.

Other smile-worthy moments this week:

  • One morning we tackled some cleaning/packing projects around the house in advance of the company and the surgery. We cranked some folk/soul music, rocking out to needtobreathe, Lost Dogs and Paul Simon. I was terribly giggly as I grooved to Simon while cleaning up the kids’ room as my husband talked with a Jehovah’s Witness on our porch. Not sure what they think of dancing, but then again, I don’t really care.
  • Ice cream. It’s been a while since we kept any in the house but Friday night, I decided we needed it after a long morning at the hospital and the utter exhaustion we felt.
  • Cheap cheese. (I promise they won’t all be food related.) The local grocery store had a sale on shredded cheese, a luxury item in our house right now, so I took advantage and stocked up. Hey, it’s the little things.
  • It’s also the big things, like receiving more unexpected money, generously given out of love and appreciation. And following up on an unadvertised potential job opening that would suit my husband. And feeling included by a church community we haven’t even joined yet.
  • Seeing my hometown host a massive concert event and hearing about all the fun people seemed to be having. I love my hometown a lot. And if other people come to love it, too, then that makes me happy.

Maybe there was more, but that’s what my brain can recall right now.

Happy, smilin’ week!

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As the kids settled into bed last night, hollering for “Mommy!” the umpteenth time, I snapped. Staring at the mound of dishes still dirty in the sink, thinking about the four loads of laundry yet to be folded in the bedroom, I wondered how on earth I could be so tired at the end of the day. Never mind that the kids were up at 6:30. Or that we went to the grocery store. Twice. Or that we cleaned a corner of the living room that had been begging for attention for at least a month. Or that I kept the kids occupied while my husband searched for jobs and returned e-mails and phone calls.

The day had been full. I was empty. And still I felt like I wasn’t enough or hadn’t done enough.

I was believing a lie that Jennifer Crow address in her new book Perfect Lives Lies. The lie that says I must prove myself because my worth depends on what I do.

Crow’s book targets nine lies that keep us — especially women, I think — from having a healthy, joy-filled life. She speaks from her experience with an unidentifiable illness that plagued her for years. This health crisis drove her to examine her life and combat the lies she’d been believing. Health returned to her body as she found freedom from the crippling lies.

I could identify with many of the lies she talks about it in the book. And the author is super honest about her own journey: how her life might have looked perfect on the outside but was a mess on the inside. Crow offers hope to women who desperately want a happy life and feel like they’re missing something, even though they might be doing everything “right.”

That said, I had a hard time with the writing style of the book. Although she’s writing personal stuff and trying to connect with readers, I got a little lost in the jumble of words sometimes. The book didn’t flow well for me.

However, Crow offers a guide for meditative prayer, which she wholeheartedly endorses. For her, the key to overcoming these lies was forming new word pictures in her mind of truths. So, even though some of her word pictures were a little bit different — like Jesus washing her hair — she found freedom by examining the roots of these lies in her life and substituting pictures of Jesus in the midst of hurtful situations.

It’s not a book to breeze through but one that needs time and space for contemplation and putting into practice what she offers.

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In exchange for this review, I received a free copy of the book from Tyndale House Publishers.

Tyndale Blog Network

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I walked out of the grocery store, fighting tears. It wouldn’t have been the first time I left the store crying, nor would it have been the last.

It was food stamp day, a day I was blissfully ignorant of four years ago. Grocery stores, especially the discount one in our area, are unusually busy the day food stamp recipients receive their monthly benefits. I know this now because until a month ago, we were food stamp recipients. We also qualify for supplemental nutrition through the WIC (Women, Infants and Children) program.

I’ll pause here in case you want to get off the train before we really start rolling. See, last time I wrote about being on food stamps (the government calls it SNAP; I’ll use that term later), I lost at least one Facebook friend (who maybe wasn’t really a friend at all?) and was served a heaping dish of criticism for the choices our family has made.

So, here’s your chance to leave this conversation before it ever starts. If the thought of people on food stamps makes your blood pressure double, if “welfare” is a four-letter word to you, well, maybe this post isn’t for you.

Or maybe it is.

Back to the grocery store. I was picking up a few things we needed. I might have even used a WIC check for milk, juice and bread. I think I bought bananas. In the last month, we’ve had to tighten our budget greatly. My husband is looking for full-time work. We have credit card debt we’re desperately trying to get rid of. God is providing enough work to pay our bills. And we are not lacking for anything, not even food.

We are blessed.

I noticed the full grocery carts. The young families. The multi-generational families. And, yes, I made assumptions about who was on food stamps. I stole a couple of glances into carts — because isn’t that what we do? — and wanted to judge their purchases, even though I have felt the weight of judgment like a 50-lb bag of sugar on the bottom of my shopping cart. I couldn’t do it, though. I couldn’t judge. And I don’t say that to make you think I’m above judging others because I’m not. I jump to conclusions faster than a startled grasshopper.

I couldn’t judge because I could see. For just a moment I saw struggling families trying to make ends meet. People making decisions the best they know how. Moms pushing heaping carts of the entire month’s groceries for the love of their kids.

And I heard. I heard in my head the hurtful words I’ve seen posted on Facebook: how people on welfare are lazy or want to make a career out of it. Words I’ve heard Christian brothers and sisters say: that we make it easy for single moms because we give them food stamps, that a mother who lets her child outside without a coat in winter must be a food stamp (and bad?) mother. Words left unspoken but are implied.

Hear me now: There is nothing easy about being poor. Or being on food stamps. Or being on WIC. Yes, the government programs ease one burden. But they don’t lift it completely. Our family could buy food, but we still had to pay the heating oil company to heat our house in winter. We were “privileged” enough to go into debt to do it. Others don’t have the luxury of making such choices. We still had to buy diapers for our kids. And toiletries, lest we be judged for the smell and dirt around us.

The worst part, though, is the shame. Few people in our church know we were on food stamps because I didn’t want to them to know. I didn’t want their pity or their judgment. So, I stewed silently when I heard hurtful things. I avoided people we know in the grocery store because I didn’t want them to see me using WIC checks. I only talked about it with the friends I knew would understand.

I endured questions from well-meaning grocery store employees who asked my kids, “Do you have a daddy?” and clerks who repeatedly told me the date to write on my WIC checks because I’m obviously stupid (my words, not theirs).

I never wanted to walk this road, but it’s the road we chose. We didn’t go into it thinking about how much we could take or how we could be a burden on the government. We did it for our kids. The best thing for our family while my husband was in seminary was for me to stay home, for him to go to school and work part time, and for us to receive government assistance. Even now, I feel the need to defend our decision. Because yes, I could have worked. The kids could have gone to day care. We could have done what so many families do and do whatever it takes.

Honestly, I’m not sure we’d have made it through intact. As it is, we barely made it out of seminary alive and whole.

Here are some things for all of us to think about:

  • According to the government Web site, SNAP is “the nation’s first line of defense against hunger.” The site also states that nearly half of the participants are children and more than 40 percent of recipients live in households where there is some income. Therefore, not all people on food stamps are unemployed. They might be underemployed. They might be graduate students in medical school, future college professors earning a Ph.D. Or they might be a scared single mom who made a mistake and now has a baby to take care of. It doesn’t really matter to me why someone is on food stamps, only that they are. And they might need help in other ways. 
  • Yes, we have all encountered or heard stories of people paying for food with food stamps while paying with cash for cigarettes or alcohol, or having an iPhone or a nice car. (Fact: You can lease a car of any kind and it doesn’t count toward your “income” or “assets” when applying for food stamps. If you, however, own a van that is worth more than $5,000, you could be ineligible to receive food stamps because you have too much money in “assets.”) This article gives some perspective. Not everyone grew up in a house where they learned to make good decisions about finances. Some people are trapped in a cycle of poverty not of their own making.
  • The church — and some who are politically conservative –  is sending mixed messages about the poor. We won’t provide birth control for women, but if they happen to get pregnant, even out of wedlock, we will implore them to have the baby and not abort it. And if they decide to keep the baby and make a go of it as a single mom, we don’t want them to live on welfare. Here’s my frustration: If the church won’t help poor people, why shouldn’t the government do it?
  • And, finally, who among us is truly deserving? People say that others don’t deserve to have children, don’t deserve to have government help, don’t deserve to live. Yet somehow we forget that we didn’t do anything to deserve being born in America. And if we are Caucasian, we didn’t deserve to have the government give our ancestors a plot of land on the frontier to build a farm and a family on. Even if we have earned every penny we’ve ever made, it is still a gift from God. Children who eat dirt cakes in Haiti are no less worthy of life than a fortune 500 CEO. People have told our family that we are the exception and that the food stamp program was created for people like us, as if that somehow makes it okay to tell someone else their child deserves to starve. That breaks my heart.

You know that famous Proverbs 31 woman? Well, right before the description of her is this charge:

Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves,
for the rights of all who are destitute.
Speak up and judge fairly;
defend the rights of the poor and needy.

The poor often have no voice. And maybe that’s because we never ask them to speak. We let our assumptions and their behavior speak for them.

I have become passionately defensive of the poor these last few years, and I hate to even try to identify with the poor because my poverty is nothing compared to those who have lived with it generation after generation — whether in this country or another. Please do not mistake my tone for angry or judgmental. And if you defriend me on Facebook because of this, I’ll live.

My point was just to give you another lens to look through.

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Life is. That’s how it feels right now. People ask us what’s new. Or how we are. And all I can say is “nothing” and “we’re here.” Waiting, waiting, waiting, still.

But in the waiting and in the routine, there are moments worth remembering.

Like our 4-year-old daughter watching rhythmic gymnastics, mimicking every move in the living room. She has used a frisbee, a playground ball and a piece of discarded packing tape as her rhythmic props. She is leaping across the room, twirling, and insisting that she can do what they do and she has “learned something new.” Me? I’m wondering how soon I can start packing my bags for some exotic location in 2024. Of course, we’d probably end up with an Olympic venue in Iowa (no offense to Iowa) instead of someplace like Rio. Still, I’m loving the Olympics through my kids. They’re excited about EVERYTHING, even marathon swimming, and every time the United States wins, they yell, “Yay! Our state won!” I think they’ll be crushed when it’s over tomorrow.

I had another morning date with our son today. We walked to the library, exchanged our books, received the next two discs in season two of Downton Abbey (giddy!), then walked to the Turkey Hill gas station for our ice cream reward for his potty training week. We shared a cherry limeade slushie and an ice cream sandwich. Besides being a tasty treat, it’s just fun to have one-on-one time with our kids.

I got to do more writing this week. And I got paid for the last project I worked on. Doing what I love and getting paid for it — can’t beat that. I also got to watch my husband do what he loves: preach. He delivered a sermon on Sunday, and he was great! We received a generous lunch offer from a nice couple at the church.

And the generosity continued through the week. I am overwhelmed by the love and support we are receiving as we figure out our next steps. This week, family has blown us away with their gifts.

Life is what it is.

God is good.

No better reason to smile.

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We sang this in church on Sunday. It’s been in my head all week. I need its message. And hope.

 

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