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A Cranky Ash Wednesday

Being 100% honest: Lent has me cranky this year.

Usually I find Ash Wednesday to be such a vital time of reflection and repentance, but if I’m fully transparent, we’ve been living Lent for over a year now. It didn’t end. We’re still fasting out here in the desert.

But really, we’ve been in the wilderness since we left Eden. And it is because we chose the wilderness that Christ entered in after us. Yes, we gave up much, but he then knowingly gave up more.

And so, after a year that has stripped away all and left us with mostly just ourselves and our coping mechanisms, we offer up a coping mechanism. We set it aside to take up communion with our companion in suffering who has set a table before us in the wilderness. And we sit at it and take up his company, he who will not grant us coping, but instead a way to flourishing.

Do I want to give up one more thing? Not at all. I’m still salty about it. But I have also tasted that which is mine to freely gain, and for that, I’d give up everything.

(But still, let’s be honest, Lent of 2021 is compounded upon Lent of 2020, and I didn’t get paçzi before either. I appreciate your condolences at this time and offer mine to you.

Trapped and Yet

Yesterday as yet another round of lockdown restrictions were announced, I had the overwhelming realization that I had been dropped off in this small UK town at the end of August and I have absolutely no way or means of getting anywhere else now or in the foreseeable future.

And being trapped in a small European town may sound romantic and idyllic, but it completely glosses over the verb. So it’s been a bit of a mental-health rollercoaster over here.

I’m grateful for a household that is willing to talk me off the ledge. And also thankful they are willing to let me experiment with dinner as we try to process all that is happening (and not happening) here. It was a comfort to crank up the music in the kitchen and set to work with no recipe—merely what I had in the fridge. How humanizing to dwell at the table last night and mourn and laugh simultaneously alongside the two other women I am sharing this season with.

It was a comfort today for the clouds to part, and the sun to warm the countryside, and for a friend to say yes to a spontaneous invitation to walk the fields just out of town.

So yes, I am trapped in a small island town. And yes, the indefinite and ever-increasing restrictions here make it feel a little bit like a nightmare at times. But that doesn’t mean there are not ways for joy to creep in. For small reminders that we are human and beloved.

For when we don’t know how to hold hope

“It’s hard to know how to hope in healthy ways.”


I wrote this to a sweet friend who was checking in and had asked if there is a light at the end of the tunnel over here. And I can only think, “yes, maybe…?” And I think we’re all feeling this in heavy and hard ways.

Last week has knocked us back. Hopefully in ways that aren’t surprising because evil is as evil does, but it’s still disheartening and disorienting when it carelessly wreaks its brand of havoc. And after so many disappointments and loses, and the hard knocks of this very heavy time, one more thing may feel like too much.


And you don’t deserve a trite, “well, buck up, buttercup!” Instead, I offer the fact that this is too much. We’re carrying too much grief and our broader culture has not given us a language for lament.


And I really don’t know how to hold hope in healthy and helpful ways right now. But I do know how to grieve. And it’s messy, and hard, and painful. But a wordless groan of prayer is an invitation for the Spirit to carry the too much with us. To invite the man of sorrows to hold what is too heavy for us gives us a chance to process and dwell where we are and steward the burdens we have been given.


Know that I join you in crying “Kyrie Eleison,” and know that though you may not have hope to hold for tomorrow, we have hope to hold in eternity because we have a companion in suffering. May the Spirit fill you with the hope of eternity in the midst of your lament as well as the strength to pursue justice on earth as it is in Heaven.

Of Bread and Advent

The other night I was feeling particularly overwhelmed about all that needed to be done to prepare for lockdown and for Christmas. And all I will be unable to do. And out of nowhere, a friend was at the door, bringing bread. A beautiful brown loaf wrapped in wax paper, tied in twine with a sprig of rosemary. A gift given because of the pleasure it brought her to make.

Oh, how this echoes Emmanuel! God incarnate who came and endured the cross because of the joy set before him. Making possible the feast reunion that one day will be.

So what was given to remind us of both the feast to come and the cross endured on our behalf? Bread. Bread we are bid to take and eat. And to taste and see that he is good. Bread has been freely given out of joy to sustain and remind:

We have hope! There is bread. There is joy. Echoes of the feast to come.

You may not be feasting this weekend in the way you usually do. You may not be with those you dreamed you’d be with. But may this Christmas be a reminder and testament to the providence of Emmanuel. And may small, unexpected gifts be a reminder of sweet and beautiful grace.

Chaos of Singleness and Marriage

A pastor and mentor is working his way through a sermon series on chaos. This past week was about chaos within marriage and asked if I would provide a perspective on singleness along these lines. The following is my response:
Our culture (and the church is not immune) is prone to elevate marriage or—in lieu of marriage—sexual fulfillment to the level of God.  But what happens when we elevate the pursuit of something over the pursuit of God? We were made to pursue his love, not the love of man. When we pursue anything other than the love we were intended to pursue, chaos ensues. We meet our brokenness head on. It doesn’t work. (I think that came through so clearly in your thoughts yesterday and I am grateful for it. It’s a word we all need and often!)
In the marriages of friends (or divorces of some), I’ve watched expectations that can only be fulfilled by God’s perfect love destroy what is there. The grass is not greener for my married friends—it’s just different grass. I may feel longing in wanting a companion to share things with or children to raise to love God. I may feel loneliness or feel forgotten. This is the burden I carry as a single woman. But this is one side of a coin.
On the other side, my married sisters also experience loneliness or feel forgotten within the bounds of their marriage. They have been blessed with husbands and children, yes, but that season carries it’s own hurts and burdens. They daily hurt and are hurt by their best friend and are constantly trying to extend grace and accept forgiveness and maintain love for that person despite this. Their desires are thwarted by helpless babies and willful toddlers that know no better than selfishness.
These are not the challenges of my world, but they are in fact challenges that I must remember to hold compassion for. Just because those in other seasons have blessings we do not, it does not mean we can ignore the burdens we are meant to carry for one another. It’s easy to forget the chaos others experience when we are consumed with our own.
In my own life, chaos can look like a lot of worry and a lot of anger. If God does not provide a partner for me, then will my life be valuable? Will I find community as my married friends fulfill their search for couple friends, for kids, for friends with kids, etc? What happens when my parents have passed on? What happens when I am old and my health declines and I do not have my own children to care for me? On and on it goes in the neurotic mind of this late-twenty something. I can become angry that I have devoted myself to God and his word and he has not provided the desires of my heart. I come to Him as a consumer rather than a worshiper and of course find dissonance where I expected I would get my way.
In the elevation of romantic or sexual love over the love of God in a church community, chaos can reign supreme. Couples and families are served—as they should be—but often this elevation of the nuclear family leaves the single, divorced, or widowed out of the community wondering if there is even a place for them. We do not look outside those of our own demographic to bring them into our homes, around our tables, or into our hearts because we do not see them. But the gospel—and ergo the church universal—does not exclude anyone. The body of Christ is so much the better when we embrace those different from our situation in life because we are united in Christ.
Families who have done this for me have provided the connection and stability I crave that is often absent when I am on my own. In turn, I am able to give another voice for their children, another walk with Christ to observe. I am able to challenge norms and bring a passion that has been lost in the shuffle of getting everyone between school, small groups, and sports practices.
I have received many a glimpse of singles who want to hold anger and point a finger at how the church has “forgotten” them. (I have been so guilty of this myself). It can be hurtful. It can be isolating. It takes a lot of risk to find a place in a community made for nuclear families made up of both husband and wife when you are outside of that.
So here is the ultimate question—the question not just in this type of chaos, but in all chaos: What is the telos here? What is the ultimate goal?  Is it to consume the love of man that I so often demand? To expect my relationships to fulfill me regardless of what I might or might not pour into them? Or is it to receive and extend the love of God? To live into and out of my kingdom identity?
The truth of Galatians is so clear here: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” We are people in need of God’s love and made to extend that toward one another: wives to husbands, husbands to wives, Christian brothers and sisters towards one another regardless of marital relationship, financial status, or season in life.
So I can rest in the love of God knowing he is a God who provides—if not a husband, then a community of believers—a God who sees—my longings, hurts, and weaknesses and loves me anyway—and a God who wants me to value him over all else—and patiently pursues my heart in this with tenderness. I was not created to consume, but created to love. He values my holiness over my happiness and it is in pursuing holiness that I find myself whole.
And this may not result in a husband. But it will result in a deeper knowledge and love of my father—a fulfillment of my purpose.

Book Review: A Light So Lovely

I’m thrilled to bring you a little treat today. My friend (and one of my favorite book-recommenders!) Katrina DeMan has agreed to review A Light So Lovely for us today.

The afternoon after Aretha Franklin died, I was sitting on my couch listening to NPR when a bio-tribute to the Queen of Rock came on. As I listened to smooth tones tell me Franklin’s beginnings, of difficult realities amidst an on-going contribution to her craft, I had a lump in my throat. I wondered if I was going to have to subtly half-wipe tears from my eyes, hiding my emotion from the family inhabiting the room with me. While I have certainly listened to Aretha Franklin’s music, I wasn’t a dedicated fan. I can’t reach back into a personal connection with her canon and draw much beyond R-E-S-P-E-C-T but the bio-tribute brought a narrative connection to me that yielded emotion, curiosity, and yes, respect. It also brought awareness. Is there any one person in the world who isn’t complex, who doesn’t have to fight through obstacles—internal and external—to live in a kind of success?

And as I sat in the tribute of words for Aretha Franklin, I realized that I had been living with a lump in my throat from another bio-tribute about another queen who’s official last name is also Franklin: Madeleine L’Engle.

1535334530.pngI had been reading Sarah Arthur’s memoir of L’Engle’s spiritual legacy, A Light So Lovely, a nicely woven collection of biography, Arthur’s own memoir and commentary, and interviews with creative culture makers across a span of generations. In this collection of quotes, remembrance, interview, and history are friends, readers, and students who were opened to a new “language of wonder, hope, and joy” because of L’Engle’s uncompromising work in displaying for us all a God who can rather than a God who can’t.

In Arthur’s bio-tribute, we are given a fresh definition of Icon, not as “a person who one worships but a person who instead acts as a window, a person whose life and faith points beyond itself to Christ”. And from this definition, the story in A Light So Lovely finds it’s center as Arthurs works through L’Engle’s life in chapters titled by contrasts—Icon and Iconoclast, Sacred and Secular, Truth and Story, Faith and Science, Religion and Art, Fact and Fiction, Light in Darkness. This is fitting because L’Engle herself had contrasts and Arthur doesn’t hide L’Engle’s paradoxical foibles and inconsistencies. In this, Arthur is gracious and wise and demonstrates that Icons, even in their human deficiencies, can point us beyond themselves to the Light of Christ.

In every way possible, Sarah Arthur’s book about Madeleine L’Engle’s legacy is a celebration of the sweet communion of words. Her setting is Madeleine L’Engle and the word gifts she brought a particular time and place as she read widely herself, then wrote vigorously to the publishing of A Wrinkle in Time. L’Engle then connected with her readership by speaking and teaching workshops as she continued to publish. Her readers and students and contemporaries became aligned hopefuls in the pursuit of the God Who Can because L’Engle demonstrated through the windows she opened, as Arthur characterizes, that “we must not foreclose on how Christ will choose to work, nor through whom.”

There is a sweet communion that comes when words touch another person. Think about a time when a fitting word is spoken or an unexpected connection of understanding is reached in conversation. In that moment, there is a communion of joined reality. Through captured words whether fiction or non-fiction, this communion reaches across times and connects people from different generations, locations, and lived experiences. In writing A Light So Lovely, Arthur is an Icon herself. Through a window she opens of L’Engle’s life, she offers communion and solace for readers and writers as she points to Christ. A Light So Lovely is a eulogy for L’Engle in which a queenly icon is laid to rest. May she rest in peace as the stature of her words live on and continue to bring communion to the generations of readers beyond her days. May more of us pursue with our words the nature of an Icon and continue to point beyond our paradoxical human selves to Christ. Sarah Arthur is doing this and in a most lovely way.

You can purchase your copy of A Light So Lovely from Baker Book House.

 

The mother of five, super fabulous children, Katrina De Man is daily fielding pleas from those children to get a new dog after the sudden death of Nacho, the family’s Min Pin this spring. Years ago, she got an English degree which she has used in many ways including homeschooling her highly- achieving kids. She reads with on-going commitment and finds abundant joy in attending book clubs with other committed readers. Katrina is also married to a man who is so hard-working and strong that Teddy Roosevelt seems like a slog comparatively. But then, it doesn’t matter because Teddy wouldn’t have even tried to compare to Katrina’s husband since he himself said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.”

YA and Encouraging the Dreams of Young Women

I recently read to novels that would be considered read-a-likes on a bookstore shelf. (You know the shelf-talkers that tell you if you like X-book, you’ll also enjoy y-book.) Both appeared to have similar goals, even similar protagonists, but both addressed a key characterization point in a ver different manner: the protagonist’s passion.

wdmr-paperback-255x300.pngThe first book I read of the two was When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon. I saw this book on many summer reading lists last year and thought it sounded like a fun storyline. Dimple is a recent high-school grad who has just been accepted to a prestigious summer coding camp. She is shocked when her conservative Indian parents agree to let her attend. What she doesn’t know is that her parents have coordinated with another couple to arrange a marriage between Dimple and their son, Rishi, who is also attending the same camp.

The book is a light romantic comedy and was, on the whole, a fun summer read. But I was a little put off and couldn’t figure out why.

1535332715.pngThat is until I encountered My So-Called Bollywood Life by Nisha Sharma. In this YA novel, Winnie, a aspiring film-maker and Bollywood-enthusiast finds her life-plan completely derailed. She was given a prophecy at birth describing her true love, but her high-school boyfriend who matched the description to a T has cheated on her, not to mention her aspirations to run the student film festival are looking a little rocky.

The book is filled with fleshed-out, quirky and lovable characters, and is tinged with a little magical-realism. (Also, full disclosure: I may have stocked my Netflix queue with a bunch of Shah Rukh Khan movies after reading this)

But why did I have such a stronger reaction to My So-Called Bollywood Life over When Dimple Met Rishi? I would have thought that I would have related more to Dimple with her experience in code over Winnie’s expansive Bollywood knowledge. But Sharma did something in My So-Called Bollywood Life that I didn’t experience in Dimple’s world. I got to learn things about film that I didn’t already know. I never even got to experience Dimple coding. Not once.

Both novel’s have themes of appreciating family and culture, exploring one’s future, and pursuing dreams whole-heartedly. But I think the last theme was done more effectively in My So-Called Bollywood Life.

As writers, if we want to encourage young women to pursue fields that are usually dominated by men, by placing a young female protagonist in that field, we ourselves, must show an interest in that field.

For Dimple, I felt the effort of her story was cheapened by a lack of attention put in to understand coding or how that may fulfill the female protagonist.despite the entire book taking place at a coding camp, there is never any coding happening in the book. We never get to experience Dimple in action and how that makes her feel.

On the other hand, we do get to experience Rishi’s passion—drawing— and how that makes him feel. For a book targeted to young women, I certainly felt an inequity here. In some ways, I thought there was more importance placed on pursuing a relationship with a boy than fulfilling a life calling or dream.

Sharma let us experience was it felt like for Winnie to splice film and talk about equipment. Was I able to totally understand as a non-filmmaker? Not entirely, but I did believe that Winnie understood and I got to feel a little bit of what her passion awakened in her.

Menon’s second novel was released this summer has a female filmmaker protagonist. I have not read From Twinkle, with Love, but I hope she was able to take a queue from Sharma and show young women what it is to live into your passion realistically.

What about you? Have you read My So-Called Bollywood Life or When Dimple Met Rishi? What did you think? What books do you think demonstrate the importance of pursuing a passion? What authors have you read that demonstrate a character’s passion well?

I’d love to hear from you in the comments. Until then, keep on reading!

On Mother’s and Compassion

There was some point during the course of my first college heartbreak that I realized that my mom wasn’t going to be there to pick up the pieces and make me feel better—it was all on me. This certainly cultivated a dependence on faith in times of mourning, but I’ll be honest, it was an isolating realization.

I was a little embarrassed to have to admit to myself that I wanted my mommy, but it was true. And that season of my life was important—that realization that I was on my own and that was okay. Maybe not my ideal at the time, but okay.

That was a big season of change and transition—moving out of my parents house, cultivating friendships in a brand new community, learning to care for myself. But never once did it really enter into my eighteen-year-old brain to think about the amount of change my mom was experiencing through that season.

Even in moving back home, there were bumps to weather and boundaries to set with four adults living in a single space as opposed to what had been two adults and two children only a few years before.

Brenda Yoder’s Fledge was an eye-opening read for me and I’m grateful.

This exploration of letting one’s children grow up and handling the transition with grace was relatable and knowledgable. Written from a mother’s perspective, Yoder does not shy away from being honest about her own experiences, while giving practical advice for those trying to settle in to an empty nest.

I’ve been thankful to have stayed local and have a healthy relationship with my parents as an adult. Yes, my mother and I have had our challenges—like most mother’s and adult daughters. (Hey, ma!) Reading Yoder’s book gave me an appreciation for the challenges my mother walked through in my late adolescence. Even though I couldn’t express it at the time, this book has certainly given me a dose of compassion for the road mother’s walk when letting go of their children.

If you’d like to pick up a copy (don’t forget, Mother’s Day is coming up!), get one here.

If you’d like to enter to win a copy, show Brenda and I some love on social by clicking the button below!

A winner will be randomly selected next Monday, March 12. There are multiple ways to win, so be sure you click your way down the entire list!

Book Review: Love in Three Quarter Time

I’ve probably said it enough that I’m not a romance fanatic. At least not when it comes to books. I certainly hope I’ve made it clear that I’m a pretty hopeless romantic and would encourage anyone to pursue a romantic life regardless of their relationship status.

That said, I was feeling all the warm fuzzies reading Rachel McMillan’s contemporary romance novella Love In Three Quarter Time. Taking place in beautiful Vienna, Austria, you’ll be booking plane tickets after this one.

When Evelyn Watts is laid off, she is offered a once in a lifetime temporary job from her handsome Austrian work-crush. Whisked away to central-Europe, Evelyn discovers not only the beauty of traveling, but also what it means to live romantically.

Evelyn was such a relatable protagonist for any hopeless romantic introvert. I adored seeing the world from her perspective, humorous pop-culture references and all. Evelyn is opposite two intriguing characters—Rudy and Klaus—who certainly helped keep this romance plugging right along with charm and wit.

As is usual for a McMillan novel, the cities her characters inhabit are a character in and of themselves. I loved reading about placed I’ve visited in Boston and look forward to one day staying in Vienna. The richness of the setting has really made this story stick out in my mind. I can’t wait to one day take in a symphony in the birth country of Mozart or to eat a Mozart tart for that matter.

No, I do not often frequent the romance genre, but was so pleased to make this exception. The novella was a love letter to Vienna as much as it was an homage to living a romantic life whether you have a significant other or not.

This is the perfect read for a cozy-winter Saturday. Grab a blanket and some Belgian hot chocolate if you can get your hands on it. You’re in for a good time.

You can pick up your own copy of the novella for your e-reader here.

In other exciting news, Rachel McMillan is one of the fifteen authors joining us at the first ever Fiction Readers Summit in Grand Rapids, Michigan this May!

This event celebrates readers of inspirational fiction and how they push the genre forward. I would love to meet you at this event! You can find all the registration details here.

Book Review: Party of One

For over nearly two years now, you have all helped carry a great conversation around the Bible College Spinster series. I have loved hearing your hearts as we talk about the challenges of singles in the church and how best to love those in different seasons than our own.

Are you ready to take this conversation to your small group or book clubs?

Joy Beth Smith’s Party of One is a much needed exploration of modern singleness in the church. Her wit, wisdom, and honesty will resonate with anyone trying to lead a content and well-rounded life in the tension of longing for a significant other.

So many of the topics we’ve tackled on this site are expressed, but JB also isn’t afraid to go where I am. Her discussions on sexuality and cringe-worthy dating stories will be a comfort with any reader who has wanted to have this discussion, but never had a church community in which to do so.

Party of One had me laughing, giving poetry-slam snaps, and crying all in turn. I have not nodded along with a book in so long and it really is the desire of my heart that those struggling in their faith as a single read this book. I would also hope that any married folks or church leaders that want to care for the singles in their communities well pick up a copy.

I was reminded of my significance and encouraged by so many chapters of this book. You as a single are an important part of your circles. You are not in a waiting space and if you’re waiting for Jesus to make you not lonely, honey, you’re going to be waiting a little while. JB’s Party of One is the book I’ve been waiting for for so long. I’m thankful that Thomas Nelson recognized the importance of this topic and can’t wait for others to begin reading.

You can pick up your own copy here and don’t hesitate to tell me what you think in comments!