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For the Sake of My Neighbor

Every morning I receive an email that is essentially SparkNotes for the news. This has been a really helpful tool for keeping up with current events, but for the past year, it has also been really helpful in putting me in a state of lament before I even leave bed.

It’s so easy to be bogged down by how broken our world is—natural disasters raging in all the corners of the globe, corruption of power permeating our politics and culture, nasty, thoughtless words splashed across social media. It makes me sad. It makes me tired.

But here is what I am holding on to tighter and tighter these days: I am not a citizen of this world. I am a citizen of the kingdom.

No, this doesn’t fix anything in the far reaches of the world. No, this does not bring relief to the suffering brought to light in my inbox every morning. But here is what knowing that does:

Being a citizen of the kingdom of God brings to light what I can do in my sphere of influence. It reminds me that peace does not start out in Spain or Iraq—it starts in my home. It allows me to extend grace to an acquaintance online who’s words may seem narrow to me, and instead gives me the opportunity to pray for them and perhaps ask a question out of love. It calls for me to encourage, challenge, and care about what is happening in the spaces I frequent with the people who mean something to me.

Joining the kingdom allows me to think on my neighbor in ways that help him flourish. It gives me eyes to see those who are other than me and find ways to love them in a manner that helps and doesn’t harm. It allows me to experience compassion and forgiveness so that I may then go out and extend it.

Yes, these days feel dark and hope sometimes far off. Oh, do I feel that, friend. But we have been placed where we are for a reason! We interact with the same people on a regular basis. We frequent the same places routinely. These places are our mission fields! These people are the ones we are called to serve with grace and compassion! Sometimes this means listening—really listening—to those we don’t agree with. Sometimes this looks like donating household items you aren’t using for refugees relocating to your area. Sometimes this is as simple as dropping to your knees and praying for your community.

Whatever it looks like, let’s do it. Let’s take our place in the kingdom.

Participating in the kingdom feels small and ordinary and sometimes not enough, but it is what I am called to and a way I can actually make a difference. And the same is true of you.

So where will you bring peace, hope, and love today?

If you’d like to read more on this concept, I highly recommend You are What You Love by James K.A. Smith or Practices of Love: Spiritual Disciplines for the Life of the World by Kyle David Bennet.

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A Blessing for Writers

I spent my weekend at the Breathe Christian Writers Conferenceone of my favorite things EVER. I had the immense privilege of writing a blessing and prayer for this community that has given me so much and I just wanted to share it with you in lieu of a blog post today. I think this is something that can bless all creatives out there.

Last year we closed the conference with a statement by James Scott Bell:
“We are the storytellers. We bring the light.”

This year has proven time and time again that we are still called to this. These are dark and divisive times where the light is more desperately needed than ever before.

Each of us was called to this noble task ahead. How do we know we are called? We have been saved. And we are also called to share what we have been graciously given.

To adapt the words of Alvin Plantinga for the sake of us writers:
“We who are Christians and propose to be writers must not rest content with being writers who happen, incidentally to be Christians; we must strive to be Christian writers. We must therefore pursue our projects with integrity, independence, and Christian boldness.”

This is the charge I give to you, writers!

May we continue to encourage one another onward:

To create with integrity—knowing that to create costs, but that we have been called to create nonetheless.

To create with independence—knowing God has given us work that only we can do with the experiences and burdens he has bestowed to each of us.

But most of all to create with Christian boldness—to know that whether we write for an audience of believers or not, or even an audience of one, we have not been given a spirit of timidity, but one of courage.

We go out from this place to tell the truth in our stories, poems, songs, essays, scripts, letters, emails, even our ephemeral social media musings. We go out to invite the world to sit at the feet of our God and listen.

All great liturgies end with a sending, so may I pray with you to send you out?

 

Lord,

I thank you for this gathering where we may join together and affirm the gifts and words you have given to us. You have placed each and every person in these seats with great purpose and I thank you for the call you have placed on these lives.

May these souls leave here encouraged, connected to one another and even more deeply connected with you.

As we journey from here, do not let us shy away from the words you have given us to write, but instead let us push past resistance and sit down to our desks, our notepads, our computers and let us write. Let us write with the boldness you have granted each of us. Let us remember that courage follows obedience and not the other way around.

May the fruit of our worship and our writing be that which gathers, unites, and blesses.

Let us be a body that encourages one another when the truth seems too heavy, when the audience seems non-existent, when the deadline looms too quickly, when the enemy shouts too loudly, and when the words seem too few. Let us build one another up, pushing one another toward you—the giver of words, author of our lives and creator of the ultimate story.

We write because you write. We create because you create. We tell because you have saved.

Protect us as we leave this place. Give our words a place to land. Give our hearts a glimpse of home.

We thank you again, Father.

In your name,

Amen

Sweating Like A Single in a Marriage Series

When my church announced they would be kicking off the fall with a sermon series on marriage, yes, I rolled my eyes.

Because “Don’t we talk about marriage enough?” and “Isn’t the Church idolizing marriage?” And perhaps the answer to these questions is yes, but I was opporating out of a blind spot in my judgment. And isn’t that always the case with our sin?

One of our pastors who has been a long suffering mentor of mine told me he would be using a recent blog post of mine in his first sermon in the series, which was touching and humbling and blah, blah, blah.

Yeah, I was more concerned that my writing was being shared for the sake of showing all those married people that we’re here too! Singleness is just as relevant! (Hear the bitter demand for retribution?)

We’re living in a very devisive landscape these days. You can’t get on any social media site without reading something that demands you pick a side (preferably their own).

We stand on our soapboxes trying to out-yell one another into submitting to our own brand of justice. The noise is so loud and our justification so blinding that we don’t see the man on the soapbox across from us as human any longer. We just see him as wrong.

But scripture (not Abraham Lincoln!) tells us that a house divided cannot stand.

Here I was last Sunday waiting to hear that I as a single was a valued and necessary part of my community and I was annoyed when there was no application that applied to me specifically. I was too caught up in the us-and-them mentality that permeates my weekdays that I brought that into Sunday. I was operating out of defensiveness after not getting my way rather than thinking of my neighbor.

Jesus’ ministry was about laying down his right for the sake of the other and that is what he calls us to. Yes, the Church may idolize marriage, but trying to swing the pendulum to singleness helps no one.

“There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (If Paul was writing not to Galatia, but to the church in in America, I think he’d include “married or single, right or left”.)

Perhaps I need to get off my soapbox and interact with those I disagree with out of compassion rather than judgement. Perhaps I should seek unity and love before I seek being right only. This is the freedom my salvation bought.

We mourn division in the church, but what are we actually doing to heal it? Because if we think just screaming what we’re right about until those who disagree change their minds, that gap just continues to widen. What does it look like for us to climb down from being justified and give up my right in order to love my neighbor well?

Book Review: Reading People

“I think I might be a highly sensitive person,” I told a close friend as we were prepping to co-work for the day.

She looked at me confused. “Uh, yeah. You didn’t know?”

I didn’t! I honestly didn’t until reading Anne Bogel’s new book Reading People. We’ll get to me in a moment. (Because I know that’s what you’re all dying to read about…) First, the book:

The subtitle, How Seeing the World Through the Lens of Personality Changes Everything, pretty much give you the rundown. As a longtime personality-nerd, I was fascinated to dig in and read what Anne, one of my favorite podcasters and bloggers had to say.

Each chapter captures the purpose and basics of the most popular personality frameworks out there including the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, the Enneagram, Strengthsfinder, the 5 love languages, and more. Her goal is to help unpack why we behave the way we do and how to better understand the behavior and preferences of those around us. She often discusses understanding how these frameworks work together—a concept I never thought of. Once these lenses are no longer compartmentalized, you find a better vantage point from which to view the complexity of ourselves and those around us.

After reading her book, I understand why the Passion Conference was a miserable experience for me despite being a great time to learn. I know I’m not crazy for feeling anxious in a room filled with lots of people. I have better terms to describe why my first response to insecurity is to overcompensate. I also have a much better understanding of my friends and family members and feel better equipped to walk into moments of conflict.

Reading People is a great book for anyone trying to gain a deeper understanding of what makes them and those around them tick. Anne gives great tools and personal examples for digging deeper into these frameworks to engage in relationships better, be that marriage, friendships, parent-child dynamics, and even work place atmospheres.

You can pick up your copy here.

Leading a Romantic Life When You’re not in a Romance

One of the pleasures of seeking contentment in the season I’m in has been pursuing a romantic life over a life filled with romance.

What does that even mean? Great question!

My evenings are not filled with dates very often, but that does not mean that I need to wait to experience beautiful and exciting things—a thought-trap I think we can fall into when waiting for romantic love.

That’s a lie! Why wait to experience the beauty life has to offer until one is in a relationship?

I cannot tell you the joy I have found in visiting the local botanical gardens with just myself and a journal, in planning vacations with dear friends, in sitting in my favorite hotel lobby with a good book and cup of tea.

I live in a city that begs to be explored and while some of that exploration would be fun to do as a date night, why should I miss out when I find myself alone? Why should any of us.

Pursuing a romantic life means making time for the things that bring me pleasure. It means stopping to enjoy created beauty. It’s exploring the small things that make up a life that might otherwise go unnoticed.

Here’s what this looks like for me:

    • Traveling Europe alongside close friends.
    • Spending an evening in with nothing to do but drink a cup of tea and listen to the poetry of a new record.
    • Taking myself on a coffee date.
    • Doing nothing but read for an entire weekend.
    • Bringing a journal to the local botanical gardens for a morning of prayer and reflection.
    • Driving hours just to go to see my favorite band play in concert.
    • Re-reading my favorite book from childhood each summer
    • Wearing heels and the brightest red lipstick I can find because it makes me feel like an old Hollywood actress.
    • Making last minute plans with a friend to talk about the real stuff over wine.

And it’s not just enjoying what I know I like, but pushing myself to experience the new and different, and maybe slightly uncomfortable. I have plans to take myself out to dinner. I’m starting to dream up a trip to take by myself.

Living a romantic life is participating, not in the life you dreamed of, but the pretty-damn-beautiful life you’ve been gifted. It’s taking note of the glorious and grand in the midst of the minute and mundane.

This has been my adventure and I want to hear about yours. How are you pursuing a romantic life?

Book Review: The Day The Angels Fell

I love YA literature even as an adult. Authors have freedom within the genre to do so much more than with books marketed for adults in most cases.

I don’t know if this is because the audience is more willing to suspend disbelief or more open to new ideas, but there’s more for a writer to play with that still has a greater chance of being published. That said, Christian fiction has been in a YA drought for a while.

I was worried that works like Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia and L’Engle’s beautiful works were past us. Instead, there are romance primers for girls and next-to-nothing for boys and that’s been the case for many years now.

So imagine my relief and excitement when I heard about Shawn Smucker’s debut novel The Day The Angels Fell.

Smucker’s magical realism novel explores themes of death, good vs. evil, friendship and family. He tells the story of Sam, a twelve year old boy whose mother has just passed in a freak accident in his place. Immediately he decides that he must go on a quest to find the mysterious Tree of Life he’s heard from mysterious characters in town and his best friend, Abra, is along for the ride with him.

Smucker’s writing is clean and his voice is strong. I loved the images he colors his scenes with and his characters are complex and relatable. I was right along with him the whole way.

I often find that contemporary childrens and young adult literature in CBA gets quite preachy or at least harps on the “moral” far too much, but this is not an issue with Smucker’s novel. His themes are clear, but have such a depth. He trusts his audience and I think that will be appreciated by young readers and adults. He—and his characters, for that matter—don’t talk down to the reader. He’s pacing alongside the whole while with some truly profound insights tucked naturally within the story. I was often sent racing from the couch for a pen to underline some absolute gems. (See the meme below!)

I would recommend The Day the Angels Fell to fans of Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane and L’Engle’s a Wrinkle in Time.  At turns dark and others heartwarming, Smucker’s world is original, heart-wrenching, and profound.

Pick up your copy here!

Heartburn and Heart Yearn

 

A couple months ago, I was preparing to leave on a writer’s retreat with some dear friends—a gathering that has become a beloved tradition at the start of every summer.

I ran to the grocery store to pick up the food items I was bringing for the weekend and I took a call from a friend while in the store. My shopping list was on my phone, but I figured I could freewheel it.

I had a great conversation with my friend, ran trough the check out with my items, took my coupons from the cashier (excited I had earned two instead of just one!) and left for home.

Half-way through the drive I realized I had forgotten the chicken breast—a key ingredient in grilled chicken. I decided not to turn around—chances were I would have to return to the store again before I was done packing.

Putting away the groceries, I found my not-one-but-two coupons at the bottom of a bag and was disappointed to find that they were both for heartburn medication. Not the buy-one-get-one ice cream coupon a bunch of friends had been talking about getting. I thought it was sadly funny and continued to prepare for the weekend.

After dinner, I ran to the store once more to pick up travel-sized soap and chicken breast. Again I managed to forget the chicken breast.

But guess what I came home with? A third heartburn medication coupon! Now it was just getting cruel. I have not yet had to experience the joy of heartburn. And, for the most part, the coupons from this store are based on your purchases…so what was in this soap that causes heartburn?!

Finally at eleven o’clock that night, I went to the store a third time along with a friend. This time I left with the chicken breast and my friend left with a buy-one-get-one ice cream coupon. Guess what coupon I got?

Yeah. 30% off heartburn medication.

And I had to laugh thinking back on this the other day because how much of my life is like this?

I didn’t go to the store to get coupons for heartburn medication or pints of ice cream for that matter. I went for chicken!

There are so many season in life where I have looked at what others are getting, upset with what I’ve been given all while missing the entire point. There are things that my heart wants that it is not getting, but in the midst of that, am I pursuing what my heart needs? (And no, I don’t mean chicken breasts!)

I confess that I loose site of the kingdom so often, caught up in hustling, achieving, and competing. Trying to have it all so often becomes the name of my game rather than slowing down and taking in what I really need: Jesus.

But once I have what I really need, what I want starts to change. What I was striving for starts to matter less and the circumstances I’m not pleased about become secondary. When my heart yearn is aligned where it needs to be, my longings begin to reflect the kingdom in proper ways.

The Metaphor and Blood-and-Guts Reality

 

For the last nine months I’ve been wrestling over the question, “If marriage never happens for me, will I be okay?

And the answer varies day-to-day, I’ll be honest. But it struck me the other morning in a big way. I was lamenting the fact that I may never experience that kind of intimacy and then a new thought emerged. Maybe I was very wrong.

We seem forget that marriage is just the metaphor, reflecting a larger, universal reality.

Marriage is supposed to be a picture of Christ and his Church. But somewhere along the line, marriage became the reality—the concrete realness of things.

But marriage has become less permanent and the pretty picture seems to be fading, and here’s the problem with that:

Marriage is just the picture. It was never intended to be what Christ and his bride reflect. It is instead the reflection, the lesser figuration of something greater—something blood-and-guts real.

I experience a beautiful relationship daily, if I agree to enter into the fray and the messiness. I experience the heartache of surrender—of not getting my way, of discovering I’m wrong, of giving up my own dreams for the dreams of another. I experience that other giving himself up for my sake—sometimes with intensity, sometimes with a distance I try to manifest.

I walk the tension of trying to do an unbroken thing despite my unavoidable brokenness. I know the pain of having the one who claims to love me most let me walk through more darkness than I thought possible. I experience the shame and yet overwhelming joy of sitting beside the one I’ve hurt so deeply and having him still look me in the eye and not look away—to extend mercy.

There has been an undying commitment made to me—one with no escape hatch. And despite the temptations to fulfill my needs elsewhere, I have committed to staying.

For better or worse. For richer or poorer. In sickness and in health. As long as I live until death do we finally meet face-to-face.

I have never been married, yet I have experienced all of this.

Because marriage is only the metaphor. The real, ironically concrete, flesh-and-bone, blood-and-guts, no-way-out kind of relationship so many of us crave—within marriage or without— is that between Christ and his Church.

I don’t need a husband to experience the challenge and growth of intimate, lock-the-door-and-throw-away-the-key kind of commitment. That was given to me upon the cross just as it has been extended to you.

So we can rest assured that what hasn’t been granted us in marriage—or what we perhaps feel our marriage is lacking—is still ours. It’s ours in relationship with Christ.

Novice Novelist, Episode 1: 5 Things I Think of When Editing

Breaking news!: I have a new YouTube Channel!

This is an exciting new development for my platform, and I’m glad I get to share it with you. See below for more info on the why of this.

In the meanwhile, here is the first episode of The Novice Novelist!

I’ve been feeling a little lost in my platform efforts until I began preparing my Breathe Conference talk on growing from a small platform. As I began to research, I found that I wasn’t having fun with my platform and that was keeping me from wanting to grow it.

I was also missing some of the video production portions of my old job and wanted to grow my video editing skills (which are none) to something more marketable. This is how the Novice Novelist was born!

My goal is to make a video a month and post on the channel and the blog.

Reading Outside My Box

Something I really wanted to challenge myself with in 2017 was reading genres I have typically avoided in the past. Whether intimidating, “boring”, or just not my preference, I’ve decided to prove myself wrong. Here are some books among my summer reads that have been pleasant surprises from genres I don’t usually gravitate towards:

Dark Matter—Blake Crouch

Genre: Sci Fi

I know there are a lot of sci fi sub-genres, but I had written them all off until this year. Between Red Rising and this title, I have been pleasantly surprised by the grit, adventure, and creativity that accompany science fiction.

You can read my full review for more, but I was not put off by the physics involved in Crouch’s plot, but was instead blown away by its relevance to the plot. I’ve been recommending this book to anyone who will listen!

You Are What You Love—James K.A. Smith

Genre: Philosophy

Philosophy is intimidating to me. I can enjoy the thought exercise in listening to intellectuals spout theories, but in discussion I can ask follow up questions and get to a point of understanding. Reading philosophy doesn’t always extend that benefit.

When I joined a book club reading Jamie’s book, I was nervous, but was very much into his concept: We are beings of affection and repeated behaviors, so how does this impact us spiritually.

You Are What You Love has taken me on an important spiritual journey, looking at the practices I hold dear in my daily life and how that points to my true affections. I’ve had to be honest and have had to make some changes, but I’m grateful for the help this book has provided in this.

The Green Mile—Stephen King

Genre: King is a genre all his own—when you write that much, you earn that right

Many of the writers, songwriters, and general people I look up to in my world LOVE Stephen King.  His memoir On Writing is great, but I had never read any of his fiction. (True, sad story, I know.) I am not a horror fan, and that kept me away from his work. I knew horror was not his only genre, but I really wasn’t sure where to start. The whole multi-verse thing was intimidating and there are just sooo many options when it comes to King.

While bumming around a bookstore a few weeks ago, a close writer friend of mine walked me through some great entry points into King’s work and I chose The Green Mile.

I’m still in the middle of this one, but am captivated by his writing every time I pick it up. I don’t know where he’s going with this (no, I haven’t seen the movie), but I’m excited to find out. Any prediction I’ve had has been wrong by a mile and it’s really fun to be wrong. (Not to be arrogant, but once you’ve read enough, you get really good at predicting plots.)

I have not been frightened, but instead mystified. It’s refreshing to be in awe of a piece of fiction you weren’t expecting to take you by surprise.

Just Look Up—Courtney Walsh

Genre: Christian Romance

I readily admit that romance is not my jam. I love a great love story, but I’m out for something else on top of it. Put Christian in front of it and I get a little skeptical that you’re mixing Jesus in with your emotional fantasy.

But when I found myself at a Christian Fiction event for work, I was quite taken with how kind and friendly Courtney Walsh was and really wanted to read her book after seeing a few internet friends speaking so highly of the work.

Romance is still not my jam, but I cannot deny that Walsh is a very talented writer and was going beyond the basic CBA romance formula in her latest novel, Just Look Up.

Yes, the love story of the plot is central, but there is more going on. The female protagonist if flawed in a relatable but specific-to-her way—she’s not the empty heroine of your stereotypical romance. The secondary characters are fleshed out and added to the conflict in interesting ways. There are a lot of external pressure on the protagonist that are keeping me engaged in the story and hoping she will succeed.

I can see where the plot is going, but I don’t mind Walsh taking me on the ride to get there. I’m not eager to head into another romance novel, but Just Look Up gives me hope for the future of the genre in CBA—it’s thoughtful, well-rounded, and just general fun.

Like The Green Mile, this is a read in process, but I can’t wait to finish it this weekend. It’s been a good summer read to close out the season.

In other news, I’m changing some of how I run/produce my content and talking about it during a live Facebook event! If you can, join me on my Facebook page this Tuesday the 29th at 8 p.m. EST! It’d be splendid to have you there!