The ‘whole’ truth {a stop in the #OneWord365 journey}

Not far from our place is a house overlooking the river. A few months ago it was for sale, and it wasn’t on the market long. A ranch-style house, it wasn’t as spectacular or flashy as some of its neighbors, but its location is prime. I didn’t think much of it until we drove past one day and the house was gutted and the roof was off.

The new owners, apparently, are taking the frame of the house and turning it into something of their own. They’ve added a second story and a bay window and what the house is becoming is unrecognizable from what it was when they bought it. ow_whole

Transformation can feel like this–a tearing down and a rebuilding–and that’s the theme so far of my OneWord365 journey this year.

In becoming “whole” I’ve first become a whole lot more broken.

But Love has pitched his mansion in

The place of excrement;

For nothing can be sole or whole

That has not been rent. — Crazy Jane Talks With the Bishop, by William Butler Yeats

I’m reading Madeleine L’Engle’s Two-Part Invention, a chronicle of her marriage. She quotes this poem by Yeats, and I can’t stop thinking about it. That to become whole I must first be torn.

I’ve been seeing a therapist for a few months and that’s what this process feels like sometimes. A shredding of who I thought I was, of what I believed. A ripping apart of the falsehoods. An exposing of the inner wounds. I leave the office sometimes having shed more tears in an hour than in the weeks prior, and though I am often exhausted by the emotional and spiritual toll of the work, the days afterward are healing and I feel more like my true self. More whole.

How it works, I don’t completely understand. How healing comes from brokenness, wholeness from pieces, I don’t know. But I can feel it inside. Every time I am torn by the pain of the past, every time I bring it into the light, I am one step closer to the me I lost.

I am almost glad I didn’t know this was part of the journey. I might not have started it had I known.

Jordan McQueen | Creative Commons | via unsplash

Jordan McQueen | Creative Commons | via unsplash

This L’Engle book is convincing me that her life and words have much to say to my own. I am a late bloomer when it comes to reading her work, and this is an unconventional place to start, I would guess. A Wrinkle in Time sits on my shelf in the to-read pile but I needed her words on marriage more.

She says of the union:

And what I must learn is to love with all of me, giving all of me, and yet remain whole in myself. (103)

This, too, is a mystery. I knew when I got married that two became one and something new was created, but I didn’t understand that I could still be me, too. We are two individuals living in communion, and I do not have to give up who I am to be his wife.

The losing of me is no one’s fault except my own. For many years, I couldn’t tell you what I liked. I wouldn’t make my own decisions or form my own opinions for fear of losing friends. Even in my early Christian experiences I felt the need to conform to be part of the group. Though I might have had my own thoughts, they were masked depending on the situation.

I remember a time in college when a bunch of us were sitting around talking about movies we loved. After someone named one, I would declare, “That’s the best!” I must have said the words a dozen times for a dozen different movies until someone called me out: “They can’t all be the best.” I didn’t even know I was doing it. A few years later, a friend asked me what my favorite cake was. She was going to bake it for my birthday. I had no answer, so I told her white cake with white frosting. (How boring is that!?) No offense if that’s your favorite, but it wasn’t mine. It was just the safest choice. (For the record, the answer is Boston Cream Pie. Or ice cream cake.)

Becoming whole means accepting me for who I am and who I could be. It means discovering my wants, needs and likes and not being afraid or ashamed of them. I feel like I’ve only recently begun to get to know myself. Some days I’m sad that it took so long, but I’m trying to be grateful that it’s happening at all.

A few years ago after our marriage crisis, we attended a one-day marriage workshop that my husband helped plan at his school. One of the therapists leading the workshop led us in an exercise to build a bridge or some kind of structure using uncooked spaghetti noodles and marshmallows, I think. I have no gift for envisioning a strategy but Phil immediately had a plan. We set to work and when the time was up, we hadn’t gotten as far as some of the others. I was feeling bad about our seemingly failed attempt when the therapist went around the table pointing out the positive attributes of each structure.

“Phil and Lisa’s might not be very tall, but it’s solidly built. It’s going to hold up over time.”

Those weren’t her exact words, but the thought behind them. They were perfectly timed, and she had  no idea what we’d been through. I hang onto those words, still, for me and our marriage and the path that we’re on.

I may have gotten a late start on knowing myself, but I’m building a foundation that will support something I can’t yet see. It’s not about how tall or fast or soon but how firm the foundation. How solid the frame.

I may yet discover more tearing down, more shredding that needs to be done. Maybe that’s always part of the process. But I’m looking forward to the piecing back together. The rebuilding and restoring.

Most of all, I know now that broken isn’t always bad. Nor is it the end.

Sometimes broken has to come before whole.

The difference lighting a candle makes

Sometimes I wake early when the world is still dark. I stumble, half-awake, to the kitchen, then to the living room, gathering supplies, turning on as few lights as possible. I strike a match and watch it burn, lighting a candle, turning off lights. I sit in the darkness with the glow of this small solitary flame encircling me.

I watch. And I pray.

There are many things to pray for these days. Every day, but maybe I am just more aware now than I have been before.

There is a community, several in fact, near our hometown, crushed by an epic storm that took life and property and left only destruction. It is close enough to where we grew up that I recognize towns and places. And I ache for the losses and the uphill battle of restoration that awaits.

There is a woman facing a cancer diagnosis, not her first, and it doesn’t look good. But she is fighting back, refusing to give in a single day before the fight is over. I haven’t seen her in years but I know the fight is in her. And I ache for the hard days ahead.

There is another woman fighting to get back to the life she knew. Her family is with her but they are weary, I’m sure, and the battle is long.

I ache because I can’t fix anything and all the things I could do feel so small.

What can I do?

What difference would it make?

So I end up overwhelmed, doing nothing at all.

A few years ago, my husband and I visited a Catholic shrine in the suburbs of Chicago. We are not Catholic, but we are increasingly interested in the old ways. Ancient practices. Orthodox traditions. The things that often are said with distaste in our evangelical circles because they are viewed as ritual, without meaning.

That day, though, I remember feeling surrounded by the holy. Holy can be anywhere and everywhere, and sure there was plenty of human there that day, too, but I was awed. And there were candles flaming, lit for those who needed prayer, a miracle.

I lit one that day, and now I can’t remember why, but there was something significant about lighting a candle, piercing the darkness with a flame of light.

How long the candle burns, I don’t know, and yes, I put in some money to offset the cost of the candle. Perhaps it burns, still.

I pray, yes, and sometimes I forget to pray. I care, and sometimes I forget to show I care.

I so want to pray and yet I am overwhelmed by the needs. Could I ever pray enough for all of them?

The answer, of course, is no, I couldn’t and I can’t.

But is there more to prayer? Is there more than whispers, spoken words, names on a list?

I am a tactile person in a tactile world and sometimes praying seems like not enough. Has it made any difference?

But the candle, the light in the darkness, this means something to me. It is an act I can see and when combined with my words might it make a difference?

I’m not yet sure how to make this a practice. I cannot keep candles burning in my house all the time, but could I light a candle more often?

I want to push back the darkness with light, even if the light is small. And maybe that’s  just what my prayers are. Tiny little lights in the dark world, like stars in the heavens shining against a backdrop of black.

Josh Felise | Creative Commons | via unsplash

Josh Felise | Creative Commons | via unsplash

“It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness,” the adage says. I believe it’s okay to curse the darkness, to grieve the losses and even ask “why, God?” but to stay there is to let the darkness overcome.

Curse the darkness, then light a candle or whatever that means for you. Send a card. Speak a life-giving word. Encourage. Lift up.

There is far too much light left in the world to let the darkness win.

Look for the light.

Be the light.

Light your candle and let it burn.

What do you think of the practice of lighting a candle for prayer?

How can you be light in the world?

Hope in the middle of tragedy: Review of A Sparrow in Terezin by Kristy Cambron

Some books I read leave me in awe of the writing process as much as the story. Kristy Cambron’s novels are part of that category. Weaving storylines of suffering from World War II and present-day, Cambron writes of hope, beauty and love in the midst of tragedy and unexpected heartache. (Disclaimer: I received a free copy of the book through Litfuse Publicity Group in exchange for my review.)

Sparrow-in-Terezin-PKA Sparrow in Terezin is the second of Cambron’s Hidden Masterpiece novels. The first, The Butterfly and the Violin, was such a work of art in itself, I wondered if the second book could meet similar standards.

It does.

The book continues the contemporary storyline started in the first book, so if you’re interested in these books, start with The Butterfly and the Violin. Art dealer Sera James and her fiance, William Hanover, find themselves in the middle of a legal battle that could send William to prison. In 1940s London, Kaja Makovsky, a Czech emigrant, learns she is no safer across the Channel than she was at home, and she must decide to risk her life to save her family. Both women face the choice to flee or fight, to trust or doubt. And Cambron creatively connects their stories through a character introduced in the first novel.

I love these kinds of stories that blend past and present, and connect lives and stories from each era. A Sparrow in Terezin preserves the stories of children who created art at a concentration camp in Czechoslovakia. The more stories I read from the World War II era, the more I realize I don’t know about that era. I’d not heard of this piece of history, but I was moved by the hope and passion of the characters to fight for beauty and love in circumstances that looked hopeless.

Cambron is one of my new favorite authors, and I hope she keeps telling stories for a long time. If you’re a fan of World War II fiction, you shouldn’t miss her novels.

And read on to find out how the author is celebrating the book’s release.

Bound together across time, two women will discover a powerful connection in Kristy Cambron‘s new book, A Sparrow in Terezin. Connecting across a century through one little girl, a Holocaust survivor with a foot in each world, two women will discover a kinship that springs even in the darkest of times. In this tale of hope and survival, Sera and Kája must cling to the faith that sustains and fight to protect all they hold dear—even if it means placing their own futures on the line.

Kristy is celebrating by giving away a basket filled with goodies inspired by her new book!

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One grand prize winner will receive:

  • A set of poppy notecards
  • A poppy pin
  • A copy of I Never Saw Another Butterfly
  • A copy of the Mrs. Miniver DVD
  • Literary tea bags
  • Tumbler
  • A copy of A Sparrow in Terezin
sparrow giveaway bastet



Enter today by clicking the icon below. But hurry, the giveaway ends on April 28th. Winner will be announced April 29th on Kristy’s blog.

sparrow terezin-enterbanner{NOT ON FACEBOOK? ENTER HERE.}

 

Where dignity begins

Here are three things I’ve been thinking about lately:

1. I recently read a news story about a state’s lawmakers who want to legislate the kinds of foods people can buy with food stamps.

2. And I’ve been wondering about the lives of the men who pick up our trash each week.

3. Then, I read this tweet from Eugene Cho:

And as I’ve been thinking about these things and what to write this month for The Exodus Road, one word kept coming to mind.

Dignity.

Taken at the Thrive Rescue aftercare program in SE Asia. Photo by Jamie Wright, theveryworstmissionary.com

Taken at the Thrive Rescue aftercare program in SE Asia.
Photo by Jamie Wright, theveryworstmissionary.com

Each of these situations is tied to dignity.

1. This had me hopping mad, not because I don’t think food stamp recipients should use their monthly allotment to buy seafood or cookies but because it’s the first step in stripping a group of people of their humanity. When you receive welfare benefits of any kind (and we have been there), you’re already feeling low. Then when people tell you what you can and can’t buy, your value as a person dips even lower. Essentially, it’s a move that says, you’re poor so you don’t deserve to eat the same kinds of things other people eat, especially not expensive foods like steak and shrimp. We’ve been on a food stamp budget and believe me, buying steak and shrimp all the time wouldn’t last long on the monthly benefit. But there’s a budgeting issue, an education issue, there, and passing a law that says “no shrimp for you” isn’t the answer.

I like what a local food bank does here in our area: they set up their food area like a grocery store and they let the clients choose their own food. If they get 5 cans of vegetables, they get to pick out what they want instead of being handed a bag of food they might not like. That’s dignity.

2. Picking up trash might be one of the most unappreciated-but-necessary jobs. I don’t give much thought to the guys who faithfully arrive in front of my house every week to take away my garbage. I don’t know their names or where they live or if they have families and I certainly don’t think about whether they’re paid well or appreciated. A lot of times, I’m in a car behind the garbage truck and all I can think about is how inconvenienced I am by the garbage truck stopping in the middle of the road. Yet, how fortunate are we to have people who pick up our trash and take it away. There are areas of the world where trash just accumulates in the streets and makes for unsanitary living conditions.

I like what my friend Carol does at Christmas: she buys restaurant gift cards to hand out to her trash collectors and mail carrier, just to say “thanks.” What a simple gesture that speaks loudly of dignity.

3. The attack in Kenya last week would not have gotten my attention in a world that is full of bad news. Except that my husband and I are on a team of people headed to Kenya this summer. So, anything about the country has my attention these days. What bothers me is that I don’t deem something worthy of my care unless it affects my world. I’ve spent years thinking “oh, that’s too bad” about cancer and now more and more people I know are doing battle with this wretched disease. It’s overwhelming, all the hurt and pain in the world (I have another blog post to write about this) but why don’t I care about what’s happening in the world until it crashes into my world? Eugene Cho’s tweet reminds me that it’s not just that 147 people died. It’s that they were sons and daughters; they had stories and lives; they had names.

Dignity turns numbers into names, statistics into stories. {Tweet that.}

This is one of the reasons I’m connected to The Exodus Road. They take an overwhelming issue like human trafficking and give us glimpses of the real-life people involved. We might not know the names of the millions of people enslaved around the world, but through one rescue, one experience, one story, we can infuse ourselves with compassion. It’s difficult to put a face on trafficking because anonymity preserves dignity, but real stories and real people, even if names are changed and pictures blurred, remind us of the humanity behind the atrocity.

I was reminded of this again when the Associated Press published this story about how slavery is involved in the fishing industry. One of the slaves said he hoped we thought of their poor working conditions while eating fish. #shameonus. The good news is the story led to rescue for hundreds of slaves. There is hope, always hope.

Why does dignity matter so much? Without it, we’re reduced to the level of objects or animals. We have to believe we are worth something and that other people are worth something, too.

So, where does dignity begin? It starts with me, believing that I am a valuable part of the human whole. Not more important than others. Not less important. One of many equals. It starts with me believing that I don’t deserve any of the good things I have any more than someone else deserves the bad things they have. It’s acknowledging that I have been given much and so much is required of me to help others.

They are hard words to digest, even as I write them.

Because deep down, I don’t want to be responsible for my actions or inactions. I don’t want to think about people who don’t have drinking water or who spend the night with strangers against their will. I don’t want to think about people being persecuted for their beliefs or who work in unsafe conditions so that corporations can make bigger profits.

But if I am called to life, to heal and restore and bring good news (and I believe that I am) then I can’t not think about those things. When I ignore them, I take away the dignity of those who suffer because then I am saying they are not worth my time or thoughts because their life makes me uncomfortable.

But if I acknowledge these things, even if I can’t fix the problem, then I’m saying, “I see you. You are loved. You are not forgotten. You are worth my time and thoughts, even if it makes me uncomfortable.”

My challenge to you (and to myself) is to look at the world through the lens of dignity. When faced with an uncomfortable situation or person or news event, ask yourself what would make those involved feel more human? How can you show them that they are not forgotten?

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this! Feel free to share your ideas!

What women need to hear about beauty: Review of Enough Already by Barbara Roose

Enough-Already-252x378I will be the first to admit that I don’t really care for books about beauty or modesty or self-image. But this new book by Barbara Roose grabbed me with its title, Enough Already, a clever play-on-words that says to me “stop the beauty madness!” and “you don’t have to do anything else to be beautiful; you already are.” (Disclaimer: I received a free copy of the book through Litfuse Publicity Group in exchange for my review.)

And Roose delivers on those two statements with candid and compassionate truth about our “ugly struggle with beauty.”

Roose is honest about her own struggles with beauty and what she sees as her own imperfections. I immediately connected with her writing voice and think she’d be a fun person to know. When talking about beauty and image struggles, I need someone who has been there and gets it. And she does. She writes:

One of the reasons I share my stories is to give you permission to drag your stories and your beauty narratives out into the open so that you can stop struggling alone. (p. 27) BRoose-292

Even the women we think are the most beautiful have a beauty narrative that defines their self-image. I’m a fan of sharing those stories and working through them together, instead of seeing beauty as a competition. Roose devotes a chapter to relationships with other women at various levels, from friends to mentors, and gives guidelines for how those relationships can develop.

One of the most valuable parts of the book for me was the acronym C.A.R.E.S.–clothing, appetite, rest, exercise and smile. None of these areas felt like impossible goals. I could see in each area something I could do to take better care of myself. One of the things I love about the book is that it doesn’t separate the physical from the emotional or spiritual. Roose does not focus only on inner beauty and ignore outward care of our bodies. Hers is a holistic approach, and that’s why her book stands out for me.

Enough Already contains questions for personal reflection and group discussion at the end of each chapter, and all of them are thought-provoking. Check this one out if you’ve had enough of the beauty battles waging in your mind or in the media!

And read on for a giveaway opportunity! There’s still a few more days to enter!

Learn how to recognize your own outer and inner beauty as defined by God, not the media or others, in Barbara Roose‘s new book, Enough Already. What would it take for you to believe you are enough already? Most women know God loves them, but might he love them more if they finally lost that last ten pounds, or got their hair to lay right, or finally found a pair of jeans that looked good and let them breathe? Well, maybe God doesn’t care about jeans, but women do, and all the talk about inner beauty hasn’t kept all of us from staring into a mirror and taking an inventory that never quite measures up.

Barbara is celebrating the release with a giveaway! One reader will receive a cash card and writing supplies for her own inner-beauty weekend getaway!

enough-400

 

One grand prize winner will receive:
  • A $100 cash card for your own inner-beauty weekend getaway
  • A notepad/pencil set for your inner-beauty quiet time
  • A copy of Enough Already

Enter today by clicking the icon below. But hurry, the giveaway ends on April 12th. Winner will be announced April 13th on Barbara’s blog.

enough-enterbanner 

{NOT ON FACEBOOK? ENTER HERE.} 

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:

Printable 7

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