A double dose of encouragement: The Art of Work by Jeff Goins and Do Over by Jon Acuff

I realize that any kind of post on April 1 is in danger of being taken as a joke, but trust me when I say, my reviews of these two books are NO JOKE! Just suspend your April Fools’ Day self for a few moments and read about these two books that unintentionally collaborate to create a whole new idea of work and purpose.

I will admit that with both of these books, The Art of Work by Jeff Goins and Do Over by Jon Acuff, I did not have myself in mind at first because I work at home as a mom and more casually as a writer. But the messages of both felt pertinent to this stage of life for our family. I am not one bit sorry I ordered either of these books. (I received an advance electronic copy of both for pre-ordering, so I’m not even required to review these books, but I want you to know all about them!)

Some background: I often feel bad about being in my 30s and not having a stable career or years of “tenure” built up at a company. The most I can boast is 7 years at the same newspaper, which felt like a lifetime, sometimes. I grew up thinking that you gave your life to a corporation or an organization, and if you didn’t find that out right after college, you were doomed to fail at life. (Okay, maybe there’s a little drama there.)

That’s no longer the narrative of the working world. And both of these books contain messages that are right and good for the times we live in.

art of workSo, first up: The Art of Work.

Rarely do I breeze through a non-fiction book, especially one that’s more business-minded. But that’s what I love about Jeff Goins’ writing. It’s creative, inspiring and encouraging, and not once while reading The Art of Work did I find myself bored or the writing dull.

The Art of Work will change your idea of calling and propel you toward embracing your purpose. Goins’ principles and observations are so simple they should be obvious but I found myself renewed and challenged by his way of thinking. Thoughts like calling being a journey and not a one-time event and how a life lived in multiple arenas is not chaotic but a portfolio. I will refer back to this book often to practice the principles and listen to my life.

If you’re not sure your life has a plan, or you’re following a plan and now find yourself lost, or you’re facing a career transition, this is a book that needs to be in your hands, not just on your shelf. Goins lays out an easy-to-follow guide that can be tailored to whatever your life entails. It’s not a how-to book in that it will give you a list of steps to follow to find your calling. It’s an invitation to listen and act based on what is already a part of your life.

I’d give this book more stars if I could! (I gave it five on Goodreads!)

Second: Do Overdo over

You guys. Jon Acuff. I have read his blogs but not any of his books, and for that I am now sorry. Acuff is funny and this book is full of his quirky humor. But it’s also practical and encouraging. Somehow (magic?) he presents useful and challenging tools for whatever job situation you might be facing without sugarcoating how hard it is to make changes. I laughed. I agreed. I groaned.

And I got excited.

Because Acuff’s book is motivating and enabling. If you walk away from his book without feeling powerful about work and career, it’s not his fault. It’s yours. I am convinced I can pursue my dreams using skills, relationships, character and hustle. And because I was reading an electronic copy, I look forward to going back over the exercises when the hard copy arrives after the book releases next week.

Acuff speaks from personal experience and tells the good and the bad in a humble and honest voice. We can learn from his mistakes and set ourselves up for a career we love.

An enthusiastic five stars for this one, too.

I have no idea if these two authors were aware of each other’s books releasing relatively close to one another, but their messages are complementary. You certainly don’t have to read both books or read them together, but if you’re feeling stuck or lost or overwhelmed by your work, I’d recommend taking a look at both of these books and letting them help you walk through the next steps.

This might be the first time in my life I read two back-to-back business-type books in a matter of days.

For the days when hope is too hard {and a preview of A.D. The Bible Continues}

So, it’s Holy Week, and a lot of people are writing about it, and I’m not sure I have anything meaningful to say about it. In fact, sometimes, I’m not sure what to do with Holy Week. I’m still relatively new to the church calendar and its seasons and I always want Lent and Holy Week to be special and sacred and yet I often fail to plan for either one.

I find myself wondering during Holy Week why we continue to tell the story of these days. Why we commemorate Good Friday when we know how it ends on Easter. And I know there is purpose in the telling and telling again because we forget and we need to pause and remember. But there always seems to be a lot of pressure to tell the story in a new way, to host an event or draw a crowd. Easter is a BIG DEAL for Christians and churches and it lasts far beyond Sunday morning, though I forget that, too.

In the midst of regular life–school and work and grocery shopping and laundry–Holy Week breaks in.

It’s a curious story from start to finish. The shouts of “hosanna.” The washing of feet. The breaking of bread. The talk of a new covenant. The betrayal. The trial. The crucifixion and death. The hopelessness and the waiting. The miraculous resurrection. It’s an emotional roller coaster when you think about how it played out the first time.

It helps me to remember that life is like that, too. Expectations. Thrills. Disappointments. Death of dreams. Questions and doubts. Miracles. Unimaginable newness.

I have to look hard in the Gospels to find those emotions and themes. Sometimes the story is too familiar.

So, I’m grateful when creative people can take familiar stories and rethink them. I’ve mentioned this before with biblical fiction books. And we recently had the chance to visit Sight and Sound Theatre in Lancaster to see Moses on stage. I come away from these experiences with a better understanding of biblical times.

And it happened again this week when I received the chance to watch the first episode of the upcoming TV series “A.D. The Bible Continues” through a perk from Klout.

Now, I missed the previous TV series about the Bible, but I heard great things about it. This is the continuation from Mark Burnett, Roma Downey and company, and while I was a bit skeptical (because sometimes the Bible on the big screen is cheesy or overly dramatic or just terribly done), I have to say that if the first episode is an indicator, then this will be a good series. The show premieres on Sunday on NBC, which is not coincidental timing, I’m sure, being that it is Easter, but the televised story begins on Good Friday.

I almost wish you could watch it before Sunday because the horror, shame and despair of Good Friday and the following day come through. The disciples are beyond disappointed. Confused. Unable to hope even when Mary begs them to wait at least three days before giving up. It is powerful and beautiful. I love seeing historical settings as they might have been. They help me to fill in the details the Bible leaves out and give me access to a world I otherwise couldn’t enter.

Like the clothing the elite women (Pilate’s wife and the High Priest’s wife) wear. It’s colorful and extravagant, almost reminiscent of medieval clothing. I forget that the rich and powerful would dress differently than the others, even in a culture from 2,000 years ago. The diversity of characters reminds me that it was a diverse culture. Not primarily Caucasian. And not all young or old. Peter and John and mother Mary and Mary Magdalene all look different than I would have imagined them. And that’s a good thing.

And the words that aren’t recorded in the Bible give depth to the characters. One line that sticks out to me is one Peter says the day after Jesus is crucified.

What difference does any of this now make that he’s dead?

This is the question I must ask myself. What difference does Jesus’ death make? And what difference does His resurrection make? I look forward to watching the second episode because the first ends on a hopeful note but doesn’t take us all the way there.

Hope is hard sometimes, especially when all we see is death and chaos. I can hardly read news stories or scroll through Facebook without feeling like the world is one super messed up place and what does my faith matter anyway? What difference does it make?

Holy Week reminds me that despair is not the end of the story. That hope is hard when you don’t know the ending. But hope and love and life are coming and I can be a part of that story.

I don’t know where this series is going to go, but I know from reading the New Testament that the resurrection doesn’t mean happily ever after, either. If anything, the disciples’ lives become more difficult. But because they have a reason, because they see the difference Jesus’ life and death and resurrection make, they no longer live without hope.

That is why we tell and retell the story. Because we live in a world without a lot of hope. And we who believe Christ died and Christ is risen are hope-bearers in this world.

Hope, even when it’s hard, makes all the difference.

For more about the TV series, go to http://www.nbc.com/ad-the-bible-continues.

A new appreciation for Martha: Review of The Tomb by Stephanie Landsem

Sometimes the stories in the Bible can become so familiar they lose meaning. And if you’ve been in the church for more than a few years, the story of Mary and Martha is one of those familiar stories.

the tombWe all feel a little sorry for Martha at times (and some of us can identify with her), but after reading Stephanie Landsem’s latest book, The Tomb, I’ll never look at Martha the same way again. (Disclaimer: I received a free copy of the book in exchange for my review.)

Landsem’s Living Water series has become some of my favorite biblical fiction.  You can read my reviews of The Well and The Thief to discover why, but let me just say this: she does something with history that is not easy. She imagines the circumstances that might lead a person to behave in a certain way and then puts them in the context of the biblical record. Martha’s story in The Tomb is not factual and Landsem doesn’t claim that. But it is plausible.

In this story, Martha becomes not just some ancient woman in a story but a woman we modern women can relate to.

“Who would worry about all these things if not for her?”

I won’t ask you to raise your hand if you’ve thought something similar, but that thought of Martha’s in the book could have been my own. Landsem brings a depth to characters where the Bible only scratches the surface. I love the imagination that goes into these books, and I walk away from each of them with a greater understanding of the biblical time period, a better appreciation for the women who lived through it, and spiritual truths that challenge my own daily journey with God.

If you have not yet picked up one of the Living Water series, you can start with any of them, really. They are interconnected somewhat but not in a traditional sequel format. Especially in the days leading up to Easter, I find Landsem’s books inspiring.

I’m also in love with the gorgeous covers. This one is so pretty!

Two things I learned from journalism that help me navigate life

If we haven’t known each other for 8 or more years, you might not know that once upon a time I was a journalist–a newspaper reporter (later a copy editor and page designer) for daily publications in small towns in Illinois. I gave all that up when we moved to Pennsylvania and I became a stay-at-home mom, so sometimes it feels like a different life entirely.

A funny thing happened last week–my name and picture made it into the local paper where I live now. It was a brief mention because I’m co-teaching a workshop at a writers conference with a talented writing friend. I didn’t realize how big of a deal it was until people started telling me they saw my picture in the paper. I guess I haven’t been as vocal about being a writer as I could have been.

A decade ago, in my hometown, it was normal (and sometimes creepy) for random people to say to me, “Aren’t you that girl that writes for the paper?” or something similar. My picture was in the paper weekly. My name, almost daily. I had forgotten what that was like. (Not that I’m looking for a repeat of that experience!)

Journalism was a difficult career for me. I’m an introvert (though I don’t know that I would have known to call it that at the time). I was fresh out of college and not particularly happy about being back in my hometown. I hated conflict and sometimes had to create it because sources or public officials were not cooperating. There were painful times when something I wrote ticked off an entire community and I became their target for hateful words. (One time I couldn’t answer my phone for a whole day because every time it rang, someone was yelling at me.) There was also one embarrassing time when I misidentified a girl as a boy. (It’s a long story but one I’ll never forget.)

Yet when I look back on my somewhat brief career in journalism (Is 8 years brief? I don’t know. It was longer than I expected to stay in the business.) I’m almost nostalgic. (But I could not do the same job today in our social media saturated world. No, thank you.) I can see how beneficial it was for me, not only as a writer but as a person living life.

Alejandro Escamilla | Creative Commons | via unsplash

Alejandro Escamilla | Creative Commons | via unsplash

Two things stand out to me, especially on days when all I see is an overwhelmingly long list of things to do in a variety of life’s arenas. (P.S. Not my real workstation pictured. I would love to return to my Mac ways.)

The first is that there is always work to do, so do something.

I can’t ever remember a time I was bored while working in journalism. Well, maybe once or twice. It was not a large city, after all. But my work was almost never done. There was always another call to make, another story to write, another idea to pursue. I hated Mondays because all I could see was the long list of unfinished work, and by Friday, I might have accomplished most of it but I could always get a jump on the next thing. Breaking news happens fast but follow-ups take longer. Feature articles are always planned ahead of time so the designers can work their magic. “Done” was a dirty word because then an editor would find something else for you to do.

It could have been so overwhelming that I just did nothing until I needed to. But I was constantly switching from one activity to the next. I would write a bit of this story then answer a phone call from a source for another story before leaving my desk to go to an interview with a source for yet a third story. Maybe I’d get back to that first story later, but I might have to take a few hours off before heading to a government meeting later that night.

Yes, I got paid and it was part of the job, but it was still stressful. I couldn’t afford to waste five minutes doing nothing if I could use that five minutes to make a call or send an e-mail.

Now, I’m not saying that being constantly busy is a good thing. It’s not. But too often I think something like this: “Well, I don’t have time to finish the dishes or do all the laundry, so I’ll just do that later.” In truth, I generally have time to start the dishes or laundry, even if I can’t finish it. And then I feel better about taking time for leisure later.

As a stay-at-home mom who also blogs and does freelance writing and serves in leadership at church, there is always work to be done. This week’s to-do list includes housework, grocery shopping, writing, buying supplies for the church kitchen, catching up on book club reading so I can lead the discussion while our pastor’s wife is out of the country and I don’t even know what else! (I recently heard this called a portfolio life. It’s an interesting concept.)

Which brings me to my second lesson from journalism: expect the unexpected.

Oh, how I hate this one! I’m a planner, and I like when things go according to (my) plan. I’m not sure how I survived journalism. Even in a small town, news breaks at the most inconvenient of times.

Like at 5 p.m. on a Friday when a fax comes into the office announcing the closure of the town’s steel mill, the major employer in town, and practically no one is available for comment but you can’t go home because you have to try everyone and the story will run the next day.

Or when you’re just doing your usual police rounds on a Saturday afternoon weekend duty and you discover a news release about a family of four who drowned when their van went into the river and you have to spend the rest of the day talking to people who are grieving.

Or on another Saturday when the president who grew up in your hometown (Ronald Reagan) finally succumbs to Alzheimer’s and the stories you’ve been holding and writing and planning for months finally see the light of day.

Sometimes all my plans got pushed aside for something else that was going on. It was the nature of the business and it’s the nature of life.

I still have a hard time with this. I look at the week ahead and think about how calm and peaceful it will be and then 3 out of 4 us end up sick or there are two snow days and three school delays and everything I thought I would get done gets pushed back another week.

Some weeks will go as planned and some won’t. Sometimes I’ll get through my to-do list and sometimes I won’t. What I’m (slowly) learning is that I can trust the Spirit to lead me through the day. As I’m writing this blog post, I could also be cleaning the house, but at this moment, blogging is helping to clear my head for the rest of the day, which will certainly have its stressful moments. Another day might lead me to tackle the organizing projects I need.

I’m good at procrastinating the work I don’t want to do but I’m learning that if I take small steps or knock off a few smaller items on my list, then I’m less overwhelmed. (I also probably need a few less hats, but I’m working on that, too.)

How do you do it? Are you able to find balance in all the tasks of your life? Have you learned something from a job or a role that was surprising to you?

Messes can become miracles: Review of More by Tammie Head

WhMORE coveratever the mess, God can work a miracle.

Author and Bible teacher Tammie Head knows firsthand because that’s what happened to her. She tells a bit of her story and encourages others to believe in God’s goodness and power to heal in her book MORE: From Messes to Miracles. (Disclaimer: I received a free copy of the book in exchange for my review.)

It’s a passionate plea to not let your past or present circumstances keep you from the life God intends. More is encouraging and strengthening for anyone wondering if the life they have is all there is.

And the book is full of inspiring word art. I think my favorite one is this:

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It’s hard to read this book and not catch Tammie’s joy and enthusiasm for Jesus. If you’re in the middle of a mess, let Tammie’s words lead you to more.

Read on for a Q&A with the author to find our her heart for this message. head, tammie

1. What do you want readers to learn from reading your book?

People everywhere are looking for something more. Churched and nonchurched alike. They’re in the grocery store aisle behind you, in the nail chair beside you, singing praise songs in front of you, and perhaps in the mirror staring back at you. People feel messy; plagued by looming feelings of ineffectiveness, indifference, depression, and purposelessness. However, all of us were made for more than surviving. Old stale religion never satisfies. Neither do the solutions the world has to offer. What all of us need is an encounter with God that reveals truth and sets our hearts ablaze. I have seen this in my own life as well as in countless lives around me.

2. Your life was a bit of a mess before you came to know Christ. How has He used your story to advance His kingdom?

I have watched God use my story repeatedly as a tenderizing agent for hardened hearts toward God. People cannot believe what God has done for me. In turn, I have also been privileged to lead many people to Christ, to the One who changed me. People are glad to know God loves and pursues even the messiest of people.

3. What encouragement do you have for men and women who feel like their lives are too messy for God to use?

If God can use me, He can use anyone! But even more profound than “He can” is this: He wants to! God specializes in taking the most broken of lives and turning them around for His glory. The Bible is full of broken men and women who, after encountering the Lord, were used dramatically by God and for His kingdom.

4. What encouragement do you have for men and women who are yearning to have more in their lives?

The more we’re longing for, at the end of the day, is God. More of His presence. More of His love. More of His power. And so on! What I want men and women to know is God wants “so much more” of us than we could ever want “so much more” Him. The deal is, we must risk making more room for God. The key is sitting with Him, soaking Him in, allowing Him to minister to us on a deep level and, lastly, deeply surrendering our lives to Him day-by-day.

5. What are some resources for readers who are ready to take the next step and start living for more?

I have written a Bible study called Duty or Delight: Knowing Where You Stand with God. I think that would be a great resource for digging deeper into more of a relationship with God.

6. Where can readers connect with you online?

Readers can connect with me at several social media sites. Twitter: @tammiehead Instagram: @tammiehead Facebook: Tammie Head My website and blog: tammiehead.com

A brief health update (because some of you have asked)

Last month, I let the world of Facebook know that I was trying medication for depression and/or anxiety because I was having some issues with side effects and I just needed to talk about it. The response was overwhelming and humbling.

It took me a few weeks to take further action. I talked with my therapist who suggested maybe an anti-anxiety medication might be better. I made a doctor’s appointment, and last week, I finally got to check back in with my doctor, who has been on a short journey with me but is someone I really like and trust.

Together, he and I decided that medication might not be the best choice for me right now. So, I’m trusting my body and its over-reaction to these meds and I’m seeking alternative sources: relaxation techniques, exercise, better eating, the occasional adult beverage at the end of a stressful day. This was my preferred path all along, but I didn’t want to rely on my own understanding or resist medication for the sake of resisting. (Nor do I believe that medication is evil or a wrong choice for anyone.) This is what is best for me right now.

My symptoms are mild and manageable. I will listen to my body and be aware of my emotions and determine if what I told my doctor about how often I’m anxious or depressed is true, and if we need to re-evaluate in the future, we will.

So, I didn’t want to leave you hanging (as if you’re all worried about all the time-not!). But I’m thankful for your concern and for the stories you’ve shared and the support you’ve given.

I believe mental illness is a real thing and that people don’t talk about it enough because it’s got a reputation as being a shameful thing. Those who struggle with it struggle to varying degrees and the best response to someone else’s treatment plan is my new favorite saying I learned from Amy Poehler: Good for her (or him); not for me.

I’ll keep you posted if there’s anything to report. In the meantime, I’d love to hear how alternative therapies work for you.

What’s your go-to activity to fight anxiety or depression?

Breathing techniques? Yoga? Exercise? Nutrition? Wine? Something I’m not even considering?

 

Why I’m a Proverbs 31 woman (but it’s not what you might think)

I’m a Proverbs 31 woman.

You know how Proverbs 31 gets a lot of attention (both negative and positive) and women strive to live up to this seemingly impossible list of ideals? Yeah, that’s not what I’m talking about.

Before the famous part of that passage are these words:

“Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves; ensure justice for those being crushed. Yes, speak up for the poor and helpless, and see that they get justice.” Proverbs 31:8-9

I have been drawn to and inspired by these words for as long as I can remember. I am a writer to the depths of my inner self, and when I feel paralyzed to do something, I return to these words and know that even if I can’t do, I can always tell.

I’ll admit: I’m not always good and faithful with this. A couple of years ago, I signed up with an organization called The Exodus Road to use my blogging voice and audience to tell people about the awesome work they are doing to rescue people from trafficking and sex slavery. And then I sort of stopped, not because I stopped believing in it, but because I got busy with other things. Badge_IBlogForFreedom

Well, I’m glad to say this partnership is back, and in the coming months, I will blog once a month (on the 8th or 9th of the month) about trafficking and sex slavery. When I first joined The Exodus Road blogging team, I wrote this post about why I care about this issue. You can find my previous posts under the category “The Exodus Road.” I’m mildly embarrassed by my blog silence on this issue, but I’m grateful for the re-launch of this amazing opportunity.

I respect what The Exodus Road is doing. They are passionately pursuing freedom for those enslaved and they are partnering with organizations around the world to accomplish this mission. They are changing lives and telling real stories of real people being rescued. It’s not just a fad for them.

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I’m humbled by their work. And I don’t want to be indifferent to it.

Because it’s easy to go about my life and not think about people who are not free. I live in America, the land of the free, so my worldview is a bit skewed. But in other parts of the world, there is no freedom. And in the grand scheme of humanity, if there are enslaved people somewhere, then I, too, am enslaved.

I might not be able to go to the places where investigators are gathering evidence on traffickers, but I can tell you about the work they are doing. And I might not personally know any victims of trafficking but I can tell your their stories. You might tire of hearing about it, but my hope is to keep telling you about this issue so that none of us forget that there are real people in our world who are really captives.

I know I can’t do everything, but I know I can do something.

Telling–it’s my something. It’s a start.

And it’s better than nothing.

I hope you’ll follow along with these stories and find your something, too.

A royal tale: Review of How to Catch a Prince by Rachel Hauck

What if you’d secretly married a prince five years ago and thought the relationship had ended only to find that same prince standing in front of you with annulment papers in hand?

how to catch a princeRachel Hauck’s Royal Wedding series wraps up with How to Catch a Prince, the story of American heiress Corina del Rey and Prince Stephen of Brighton, the secret they share (and another one they don’t), and the obstacles they’ll need to overcome to find love between them again. (Disclaimer: I received a free e-copy of the book in exchange for a review and blog tour participation through Litfuse Publicity Group.)

Hauck’s previous books in the series, Once Upon a Prince and Princess Ever After, introduced us to the fictional kingdoms and royal families of Brighton and Hessenberg, and while reading those books would help give background for this one, you could pick up How to Catch a Prince and read it without having read the others.

I found the premise of this book interesting, but I must say I was a tad disappointed in the story overall. I loved the first two books in this series, but this one didn’t quite meet my expectations. I just wasn’t as drawn in by the characters, and I wasn’t really surprised by how things played out. Still, it was an entertaining read, and there were some unforgettable moments and lines from the book.

The overall theme of loving people well, even if it’s not romantic love, will stick with me. As will advice like,

“You can play it safe if you choose, but it’s the brave, those who face their fears, who tame the world, who win the day. Walk on waves.”

Corina does a lot of brave and courageous things and learns to fight for what matters to her. That’s inspiring. And Prince Stephen learns that exposing his secrets is the only way to live in freedom.

If you’re a fan of the real royal family and all things British, this is a great series to make you feel like you’re part of that world.

And to celebrate the launch of this book, there’s a royal giveaway! And to find out more about the author, the book and what others are saying, click here.

An American heiress and a crown prince seem destined to be together. Will the devastation of war keep them apart forever? Find out in Rachel Hauck’s new book, How to Catch a Prince. True love has a destiny all its own. With a little heavenly help, Prince Stephen and Corina embark on a journey of truth. But when the secrets are revealed, can they overcome, move forward, and find love again?

Enter to win a “royal” prize pack! 

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One grand prize winner will receive:

  • A royal-themed Brighton charm bracelet
  • 2 tickets to see the new Cinderella movie
  • The Royal Wedding series (Once Upon a Prince, Princess Ever After, and How to Catch a Prince)

Enter today by clicking the icon below. But hurry, the giveaway ends on March 23rd. Winner will be announced March 24th on Rachel’s blog.

catchaprince-enterbanner

{NOT ON FACEBOOK? ENTER HERE.}

How close is too close? {The Proximity of Pain}

“I can’t imagine.”

I saw the words again recently in response to someone’s pain.

I don’t think anyone means to offend or hurt when they say those three simple words. The heart behind them is often “I have no idea what that’s like or how to comfort you.” But sometimes they come out sounding more like “I don’t want to think about what that would be like. I can’t–and won’t–identify with your pain.”

I’m guilty of it. Thinking that the words will soften the situation because if I can’t imagine then whatever it is must be tragic.

But I’ve used the words to distance myself from tragedies. (The greater tragedy is that the words have been spoken to me in the midst of personal crisis. Shouldn’t I know better?) I’ve given myself permission to go about my life without thinking about those who suffer. (Until I, myself, suffer.)

I can’t imagine. Or I won’t.

The difference is slim.

I’m not a great conversationalist, at least not when I’m on a mission to complete a task. I’m not likely to chitchat on the phone if I have a specific reason for calling. I usually try to get to the point quickly because I’m wired to value tasks more than people, I guess. Give me a to-do list, and I’m on it with enthusiasm. Ask me to manage relationships with the same enthusiasm and I’m overwhelmed to the point of inaction.

But God is working on me.

A few months ago, I delivered a meal to a couple who are battling the wife’s cancer. I don’t know them well, but I’m generally eager to make food and take it to those who are in need of some relief. I was ready to drop off the food and leave, but the husband kept me at the door, talking about his wife’s progress and the treatment schedule. It’s not that I wasn’t interested; it’s just that I don’t like to pry. I figure people get asked the same questions all the time and maybe they get tired of talking about it.

I listened. Maybe that’s all he needed.

A month or so later this would happen to me again. I was planning a funeral meal for another family in the church. I had a question for the daughter about meat and cheese. She ended up talking to me about the shock and pain of losing her mother unexpectedly. It was another of those situations where I didn’t know the family well. I listened, having no intelligent response.

I have little firsthand experience with things like cancer and death, so I think my questions will somehow be offensive or silly.

Maybe I don’t need better questions. Maybe all I need is to know how to listen.

We’ve been watching the TV show “About a Boy” which is about a boy, yes, but also about a man, Will Freeman, who lives a pretty self-centered lifestyle until he meets the boy, Marcus. Until recently, I didn’t know this was also a book. So, I read the story, and one passage in particular grabbed my attention. Marcus, a 12-year-old with problems at home and school, starts hanging out at Will’s bachelor pad, and this is what Will is thinking:

Will had spent his whole life avoiding real stuff. He liked watching real stuff and he liked listening to (songwriters) singing about real stuff but he’d never had real stuff sitting on his sofa before. (p. 117)

Real stuff is easy to read about or listen to or watch, but when it sits in your living room crying or talks to you over a cup of coffee, it’s hard. And uncomfortable. I’m not always ready to invite the real stuff into my real life. Because real stuff is messy and I have a hard enough time keeping my own space tidy.

What would have happened, though, if no one had let me in when I was a mess?

That, I can’t imagine.

“The Lord is close to the brokenhearted,” the psalmist writes, and I begin to see the error of my ways.

I keep distance between me and those whose hearts are breaking out of fear that my heart might break, too. It’s not as if tragedy is contagious, so why would I rather not immerse myself in someone else’s trouble? Am I afraid to get too close to cancer or death or loss or sadness because it might rub off? I do tend to be swayed by the emotions of others, and there are days my emotional cup is already too full.

Elisabetta Foco | Creative Commons | via unsplash

Elisabetta Foco | Creative Commons | via unsplash

But what if I’m doing myself a disservice? What if by closing my eyes to tragedy, by holding suffering at arm’s length, I’m distancing myself from God?

If the Lord is close to the brokenhearted, is it possible that I might get a glimpse of God if I would take a step closer?

For too many years, Phil and I kept others out of our pain. Not everyone, but most people. So it’s different to be letting people in again. The wounds we’ve covered over are open again and healing this time, and sometimes that means I’m raw with my feelings, emotions, and reactions. But the difference is: I’m letting people in to those painful spots. Instead of covering them up, I’m exposing them. And it’s not always pretty.

There are days I think it would be easier to live independently. To avoid the hurt that comes from being in community. In marriage, in friendships, in church, hurts are inevitable because all of those relationships involve people. And people are messy. (Guilty as charged.)

But there’s a kind of pain that wounds further and a kind of pain that heals, and I’m starting to learn the difference.

We are grateful to be in community with people who care enough about us to challenge us to do things we don’t always want to do, to help us heal and become better people. Is it painful to hear someone you care about say, “You know, you might want to think about that differently” or “Maybe that wasn’t the best decision”? Yes, it is.

But it is pain that heals if I let it.

What if Jesus had decided to keep his distance?

Our sermon series at church is in the book of Luke right now and it is hard not to notice how close to everyone Jesus is. He sits and talks and touches and listens and people are always crowding around him. He could have healed people from afar, and sometimes He did, but sometimes He purposely touches people to heal them.

Sometimes I wonder if He could have saved us if He’d never left heaven. Did He have to become human and live in our dirty, messy world? I don’t know if He had to but I know that He did.

communion

And He didn’t keep His distance from those in pain and suffering. He became our pain and suffering. He gave His whole self for our salvation. He entered our world and identified with our pain. He embraced us when we were unworthy. He brought healing and restoration.

But it cost Jesus His life.

It was painful, yes, but it was pain that heals.

And I forget that when I hold the bread in my hands–His body broken for me, and drink of the cup–His blood shed for me.

Broken body. Shed blood. Is there ever an instance when those actions don’t hurt?

I am human. (Shocking, right?) So my capacity to enter someone else’s pain, to identify with suffering and draw near to tragedy is limited.

But it’s not impossible.

And instead of avoiding suffering and tragedy and pain, I want to see Jesus in it.

If the Lord is near to the brokenhearted, then this is what I know: He is near to me in my pain and I can see Him in it. And I just might see a different side of Him when I embrace the brokenhearted, too.

Will I dare to imagine?

Days of Wonder

I nestled into the window seat, nose practically touching the glass, eager for a glimpse of the world outside the plane’s climate-controlled interior. It was not my first flight, but maybe you wouldn’t know that if you sat next to me.

Whenever possible, I angle for a window seat. I like watching people, sure, but even more, I like seeing the world from an almost unbelievable vantage point–thousands of feet in the air.

How does one tire of soaring above the clouds in a man-made machine? Of starting in one place and landing in another in a matter of hours, having traveled hundreds, sometimes thousands of miles?

Want to read the rest? Head over to Putting on the New.