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People Who Walked in Darkness

I think it’s about time we all admitted it: We suck at lament.

As a culture, we’re just really bad at it.

We live in an age ruled by the power of positivity and silver linings. We’re looking for the bright side and chasing our bliss. We don’t sit still, we distract. We don’t allow things to sink in, we stay at the surface.

But we can’t. Not all the time. At least not forever.

And I think it’s during the holidays that we feel the tension of that. And I think this year more than ever, we’re all tired of pretending the tension isn’t there.

Can I just say that it’s okay that you feel tired. It’s okay that you feel sad, or hurt, or angry, dismissed, disenfranchised, unincluded, forgotten, or unloved. It’s okay to acknowledge your pain. Because if it didn’t matter, then it wouldn’t hurt.

Our world groans. In our own neighborhoods, across the globe. And we ache for a wholeness that we feel was supposed to be ours.

We feel that loss when someone hurts us, or we destroy something that was good. That hole gapes at us in the darkness and we have an innate sense that this wasn’t how it was supposed to go.

I mourn that with you, friend. We mourn it side by side and we need to. We can’t hold that much pain on our own and we were never meant to.

So why say this at Christmas?

Because this is the season where we carry the already and not quite yet. We carry the knowledge that things may be bad, but they will not always be. We hold the burden of waiting together.

The people who walked in darkness
    have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,
    on them has light shone.

I lament beside so many of you and I’m grateful for those of you who mourn beside me. And we look at our brokenness and the darkness that surrounds. We don’t pretend it’s not there. But we also hold it up to the light.

For to us a child is born,
    to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon[d] his shoulder,
    and his name shall be called[e]
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

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Book Review: An Enchantment of Ravens

This fall I made a more conscious effort to read books for just the fun of it. Mostly, this meant a lot of YA novels.

Growing up, I was a sucker for fairytales. Hours upon hours of Disney princess movies led to bringing home fairy tale collections from the school library. Once I had read through all of those, I traipsed all about the yard in my moms old bridesmaids dresses making up my own. Eventually, this evolved into writing my own.

And somewhere in the past few years I had let myself forget that.

And then I read Margaret Rogerson’s An Enchantment of Ravens.

Rogerson’s debut novel is a splendid new fairytale set in a world of old folklore with a fresh twist.

The fair folk are a fairy race who cannot create anything lest they die. As a result of their limitations, they will pay great amounts for beautiful handmade goods. Isobel is the best portrait artist the fair folk know, and it’s not a surprise when a fairy prince, Rook, comes to have her paint his portrait. Isobel paints the human emotion of sorrow into his picture—a crime punishable by death. To be tried for her crimes, Rook takes Isobel captive and she discovers the fair folk’s world isn’t everything her world has come to think it is.

Rogerson’s artistic background is a major asset to the telling of this novel, not only in the realism she brings to Isobel’s abilities, but also in the beautiful world within the book. It takes something special for the book to have a strong aesthetic, but Rogerson sets scenes with great strength. The images are not over-described, and yet so vivid.

The story keeps a quick pace and the tension rises nicely. Her characters are strong and believable and her world is one I would love to return to. I would have not guessed this was her first novel.

Reading her book reminded me of a love of fairy tales I haven’t returned to in too long a time. I’m now revisiting old favorites and why I was inspired by them in the first place.

You can get your own copy of An Enchantment of Ravens here.

Book Review: Called to Create

As a creator and aspiring entrepreneur who gets to work a day job supporting other creators, I was so excited to get my hands on Jordan Raynor’s book Called to Create, out this month from Baker Publishing.

Raynor presents the biblical case for creators, innovators, and risk takers to fulfill their callings not just in service, but in the marketplace.

I have been blessed to be part of creative Christian community that has fostered many of the concepts Raynor discusses as I’ve developed as a writer and content creator. Many are not as fortunate because, frankly, the evangelical church is not always the most encouraging a creative pursuits. The misconception that to serve God, you must be in full time ministry is tossed out Raynor’s front door on it’s ear before his introduction really gets rolling. What replaces it is the beautiful truth that God is a creator and therefore, we are also called to create.

Raynor writes in a simple and to-the-point fashion that can easily encourage and equip those for whom the discussion of creativity and innovation are not as encouraged, especially from a Christian perspective.

I thoroughly enjoyed the interviews and input from the likes of classic writers as well as successful business people and entrepreneurs. C.S. Lewis and Chick-Fil-A in the same book is always a win.

The book is broken up into four parts: calling, creating, challenges, and charge. Each unpacks a discussion about the philosophy and reality of the creative life. He addresses the need for risk-takers and innovators from the church. The book is a call to rally, renew, and flourish as artists, entrepreneurs, innovators, and world-changers. I was encouraged and empowered by Raynor’s book and I am so thankful.

I would recommend Called to Create for those who don’t yet have or are looking to foster a creative Christian community. I also think Raynor speaks firmly but encouragingly to the struggling innovator.

Filled with inspiration, experience, and evidence, Called to Create will have you ready to dig your hands into your next project.

Read an excerpt here.

Get your copy here.

Reflections at the Close of Ordinary Time

I’m a Baptist born and bred, but I have begun observing the liturgical calendar within this year. There is something grounding in reading the Bible seasonally alongside believers around the world.

This week—the week before Advent—marks the end of Ordinary Time, a portion of the liturgical calendar I didn’t even know existed. This season is not named because the season is average or boring. Instead, it is named for the latin word ordo from which we get our word “order.” It is a season of ordered life in the church—neither feasting or fasting, but faithful watchfulness for Advent.

There has been something resonant as I have read about the journey of Israel out of Egypt, or David’s path to the throne. Israel had escaped their season of suffering, but had not yet arrived  in the promise land (this was pre-40-years-of-wandering). David had been promised the throne by God, but Saul was not ready to hand it over. These were times of hope ahead, but also mourning was at bay for a moment.

And we know how things turned out. Israel had to wait longer than expected to take the promise land. David had to run and hide lest he be killed before he even go close to fulfilling his calling. But for a time, there was a time of faithful trust—a stewardship to be where God had placed them despite the average order of that time.

I find myself in a season of neither great joy or mourning, neither change or stagnancy, neither stressful or restful. My season in life is in and of itself an Ordinary Time. So what do I do in this time?

Honestly, I don’t totally know. I feel a little guilty not experiencing anything too traumatic or going through a huge life transition after a season of seemingly endless transition. I know this isn’t the case for most of you. But in a season to be marked by faithfulness, how does one seek to cultivate that faithfulness.

It looks like making space and time for practices that make me more like Jesus. It looks like reimagining a Sabbath focused more on reflection over my week and the week ahead and less like focusing on the inside of my eyelids. It looks like serving in and pursuing a community that is broken, but still where I am called to be. It looks like finding new ways to express gratitude. It looks like learning to lament with those who mourn and celebrate with those who are joyful.

According to Eugene Peterson, it’s long obedience in the same direction.

There is an order in this time in my life—a call to stay the course and faithfully look forward to whatever God may have ahead. I can so easily look at what has passed and want to dwell on its pain or cling to its victories. I can desperately race to what I think the future should hold for me, attempting to grasp or control.

Or I can do what is hard. I can dwell in the season God has placed me in for his purposes. Faithfulness and hope. That is what is being cultivated in these days.

As Ordinary Time comes to a close, there is an excitement to moving in to Advent. There is also the reminder to enjoy and rest in the order of my current days. I do not know what lies ahead, but God can be trusted in the order.

How has God met you in the Ordinary seasons of your life?

How to Pray for Singles

I am so grateful for the vibrate community God has blessed me with. I am surrounded by sisters and brothers in Christ who encourage me creatively, socially, but especially spiritually. God has gifted wise older women to speak truth and provide wisdom during my dark days. He has given me a family who show me grace and forbearance and love daily.

As such, there are many people who know I would like a spouse and who would also like for me to have a spouse. And I think we all know and love some singles that would love to be bringing someone home with them this Thanksgiving, but for many of us, that’s just not going to be the case.

So here is what I have to say on behalf of those just waiting to be asked the question over dinner on Thursday, “So, are you seeing anyone?”

When the answer is “no, not at the moment,” let your answer not be, “Well, I’ll pray that you will!” (And certainly don’t let it be, “Why not?” Seriously. Just don’t.)

Don’t only pray that the singles in your life find a spouse.

Pray that with or without one, they will pursue a relationship with God. Pray that they find encouragement in the word, Spirit, and people of God. Ask that there be fruit in their personal pursuit of holiness.

Pray that they will find a community that builds them up and encourages them to thrive where God has placed them. Pray against feelings of inadequacy, incompleteness, or loneliness in the body of Christ. Ask that they be surrounded not only by other singles pursuing godliness, but also believers in many different season that they may bless and be blessed by the beautiful diversity of the Church.

Ask that in their work, they may find purpose. Pray that in the moments they are discouraged by their job or feel that this is just a pitstop to what God may have next, that they remember there identity does not come from a job title, but from Christ. Pray that they take full advantage of the mission field where God has placed them—wherever their feet end up.

Lament that our church does not always know how to include the singles in their congregation. Pray for your own church in the singles there. Pray for sensitivity on how to welcome those who are not part of a nuclear family into the fray. Pray for leadership that looks to unify a diverse body.

Express gratitude that God does not make all of our journey’s the same! Pray that the singles in your life find contentment and beauty in this as well. Pray that they would seek God’s plan for their singleness. Pray that their longings are met in Christ before they are met in a spouse. Pray that they know they are significant with or without a significant other.

We covet your prayer just as any other brother or sister in Christ would. But I ask that those prayers be for full and missional lives over simply to be married.

Book Review: Beyond Colorblind

I don’t often review the books that I work with in my professional sphere on my blog, but this fall I worked on a contract for a book that was so timely and important, I knew I would need to share it here.

Sarah Shin’s Beyond Colorblind released earlier this month. It is a smart, gracious exploration of the importance of ethnic diversity in the church and working past the tendency to ignore it.

In portions of my circles, I have heard grumbling–people wondering why race and civil-rights issues are even being discussed in the church. The assumption from many white evangelicals is that ignoring race makes the church post-racial. In such settings, many have found it more comfortable to ignore the injustices and wounds that have been inflicted on so many of our brothers and sisters–often by those within the body of Christ.

Beyond Colorblind is a beautifully written call to reconciliation and healing delivered with grace, humility, and authority. I was so touched by Shin’s words and vulnerability in this book. She tackles a topic that becomes more heated and relevant by the day with the love of Christ.

If you are looking for a way to enter into dialogue surrounding ethnicity and the church, THIS IS IT! I highly recommend this for anyone burdened for how long our society has been silent as well as for those who are baffled as to why some feel we need to have these conversations to begin with.

Shin’s prophetic call has been eye-opening and healing to me. I know it will be for you too.

Who Am I?

Existentialism aside, I think this is something we all ask and it seems like a pretty foundational question. And once it’s answered, we usually live out from the answer.

“If this is who I am, this is how I will act in relationships.” “If these are my gifts, then this is the calling God has for me.” “If this is what I’m feeling, then this is how I should move forward.”

But here’s the problem with that line of thinking:

“If this is how my dreams/ hopes/ desires/ demands are being thwarted, then God must not be for me or just doesn’t even exist.”

Escalated quickly, yes?

I think we have embarked on our search for identity wrong. And we may “know” we are to find our identity in Christ, but do we really by-heart know it?

I was recently introduced to a line of questioning by my small group leader, but this was adapted from Jeff Vanderstelt. Here’s the order in which I usually ask these questions:

  1. Who am I?
  2. So how do I respond?
  3. What did God do for me?
  4. Then who is God?

But how unfortunate is that? My self-view and behavior have no bearing over who God is and what he’s done!

For example, when I was once passed over for a professional role I had thrown my hat in the ring for, I was trying to re-examine some goals. Who was I? I was a failure and probably not meant to be where God had placed me. How was I to respond? Hide, of course! I had failed and been rejected and could not let people know I was a fraud! What did God do? He had placed me here to reveal my inadequacy. Then who is God? He’s trying to teach me a lesson about not feeling too confident in my abilities.

…There’s a lie in there somewhere. Maybe more than one.

If I truly want to understand who I am, I need to flip my understanding of myself on its head. This often means flipping my frame of understanding around:

  1. Who is God?
  2. What did God do for me?
  3. So how do I respond?
  4. Then who am I?

When these questions are answered in the proper order, I am able to live out of the story of the gospel, rather than the story of selfishness I am trying to tell on my own. Living out of the gospel gives me and outward and upward perspective, rather than trying to satisfy my inward longings.

Let’s look at that same scenario:

Who is God? He is my father and creator. What has he done for me? He as saved me and covered me in his righteousness because of his great love for me. How to I respond? I trust that what he has for me is best in both success and failure. Then who am I? I am dearly loved and no good thing has been withheld from me.

With these questions in a proper order, my view of God and view of self are also ordered properly. From there, I can respond out of truth and walk forward in faith despite the hurt of my circumstances.

Which set of questions are we living out of and how is that effecting our friendships, families, marriages, vocations, and even our self-talk?

The first question may be, “Who are you?”, but the second question must be, “How are you going to answer that?”

Book Review & Giveaway: The Secret Life of Sarah Hollenbeck

Readers bring so much to the table when they pick up a book, whether we realize it or not. Our expectations, experiences, and tastes determine so much what we receive when we’re reading.

I was reminded of this when discussing recent release The Secret Life of Sarah Hollenbeck.

When the opportunity to review Bethany Turner’s debut novel came up, I jumped at the chance. I had been told that this was an edgy approach to Christian fiction, that Turner’s voice was fresh and funny. It had been pitched to me as a perfect read for the fans of Sophie Kinsella and Helen Fielding (of Confessions of a Shopaholic and Bridget Jones’s Diary fame respectively)—two of my favorites, so I figured this book was pretty much my guilty pleasure cup of tea.

Here is what I loved about The Secret Life of Sarah Hollenbeck:

  • Turner is a just-plain-talented writer. Her voice is strong, especially for a debut novelist.
  • I laughed out loud a lot—something I’ve never done with a Christian fiction novel (at least not when I was supposed too…)
  • The fact that it’s was a light, slightly-edgy, fast-passed, romantic comedy in Christian fiction! The publisher taking a risk in this direction was encouraging.

This said, I was a little thrown that the plot was perfectly set up to subvert the usual Christian romance formula, but then ran into it’s arms…quite literally.

There is nothing wrong with that at all. It’s just not my preference as a reader.

So fast forward a week and I’m discussing my disappointment with a friend who works in the industry who I knew had also read the book. She is much more critical of what she reads than I am, so expected her to be “on my side” in this.

My friend very much enjoyed the book. She also found it fresh and funny. She was pleasantly surprised to see the boundaries the book pushed in Christian fiction.

See, my friend did not have the same pitch I had before the book came out. She instead had it come across her desk while she was working. No expectations—just the book itself. In the midst of Amish and prairie romances she often works with came a smart, modern book with an honest, funny, and relatable protagonist.

And it was true! The book may have been what I thought was formulaic, but it challenged a lot of the genres “rules.” The protagonist was actually broken and relatably flawed. She and her love interest felt sexual desire, but were convicted to actually be aware of it and deal with it—something authors just pretend isn’t a factor in a Christian relationship. The protagonist was divorced and unsaved at the beginning of the novel and her conversion was not an overnight now-she’s-perfect kind of thing. I saw myself and my friends in Sarah’s character and so did my friend.

I had put expectations on this book to be something I don’t think the Christian fiction genre is ready for. But after talking with my friend, I see great value in the strides this book has taken to bring the genre forward, and that I can respect.

Perhaps my expectations were not met, but I honestly look forward to Turner’s next book. Her wit and voice are a great contribution to Christian fiction and I can’t wait to see how she will continue to push boundaries.

I would recommend The Secret Life of Sarah Hollenbeck for readers of Christian fiction looking for a good laugh and a great character. This is a quick read, perfect for upcoming holiday travels.

How have your expectations or preconceived ideas effected how you’ve approached a book? Tell me on the comments below!

Giveaway

Enter to win a copy of The Secret Life of Sarah Hollenbeck by giving Bethany or I some love on social! There are multiple ways to enter. The winner will be randomly selected on Saturday, November 18, 2018 and contacted via email. Must be within the U.S. to be eligible to win.

Something Small, Something Simple

I shared a couple weeks back about feeling cranky with my faith. Some of this stems from some things in my church that may not be to my personal preference. Most of it stems from a personal pursuit of God that was too narrow and self-focused.

It’s easy for my heart to go from discerning and deep-thinking to cynical and critical, and I was seeing evidence of this in my relationship with God. So much felt like thrill-seeking—the next conference, the next bible study, the next coffee with a mentor—that would bring the insight, depth, or change I was aching for. But God is not a spiritual crack dealer.

God is found in the simple and small—the word, prayer, and community. And so a journey to find personal liturgy began.

…And slowly crashed and burned.

Reading James K.A. Smith’s You Are What You Love was insightful, bringing words to feelings and longings I’ve held in my faith life for so long. The book is a call back to small daily practices that realign us with God’s story. It’s a call to look at our habits and what they point our hearts to and retraining our habits to point to the gospel—what we truly want to love. It’s looking for liturgy in the everyday.

Thing is, the book was on the philosophy of this more than the practice. So what do daily liturgies look like for a single girl in an evangelical church?

Honestly, I still don’t know. What I do know is this:

I operate better under structure, though I try to avoid it to keep my autonomy

Autonomy is not biblical, and that is something I’ve had to examine and accept. Having a structure to my days and weeks helps me to function better and live healthier. Having habits to look to from the outset keeps me from feeling lost or purposeless. It instead brings focus and shape.

I love my job and the flexibility it brings, but I also acknowledge that it is an opportunity to steward my time and habits well and I want to do so in a way that welcomes community. Not in a way that hordes my autonomy.

Prayer is not passive, but is, in fact, the most powerful thing we can do

Prayer was something I did in a prayer journal when I had plenty of time to write out long prayers by hand in a prayer journal. So guess what was the first thing to go out the window when life got busy?

So, yes, I still love those extended times of prayer, but I’ve also found that I want to form habits that allow me to pray without ceasing. When a friend I haven’t talked to in a while comes to mind, I pray for them. When something on the news stirs my hear to be anxious, I pray about it. When I’m at a loss, I pray.

Not all the time, but enough that this is becoming second nature, rather than just some new thing I’ll try for three days and forget about.

The church is built when the body of Christ is down on it’s knees

Yes, spiritual formation can happen in big arenas with flashy speakers. But lasting change and discipleship happens in the quiet moments alone, between the word and prayer.

I can think I know what is right for myself, or the church, or society at large, but I am so often wrong. Starting my day with prayer and time in the bible rather than the news or my email inbox brings a different rhythm to my days.

I have started reading Seeking God’s Face each morning and am grateful for the reminder of who God is and what his heart is for every morning. The book pairs a psalm and passage of scripture with prayer prompts and excerpts from various books of prayer. It also guides you through the seasons of the Christian year—something very new to this baptist girl.

This habit has been refreshing and grounding.

I’ve found that seeking to live in God’s story is not something glamorous or earth-shattering—not in the day-to-day. It’s small, it’s simple, and it’s so very necessary.

How are you seeking small and simple habits to point you back to God’s story?

 

Book Review: Fiercehearted

I work in publishing and I love it. But if someone was to ask me what I disliked about the industry I’m in, I would complain about the quality of content being produced for women.

It’s a trend within Christian literature—particularly that targeted at a female audience—that’s pushed more of a feelings-bases theology than I’m comfortable with. I’m not going to name authors or dig into that frustration here.

Instead, I want to talk about a different voice in the conversation for women that has brought me a little hope this month.

Holley Gerth’s latest, Fiercehearted explores the wonder, pain, beauty, and brokenness that makes up the Christian walk of a woman. In short, personal—sometimes deeply so—essays, Gerth explores what it means to lean fully into the call to be a woman of God.

I’ll be honest, I was a little hesitant to pick up another book on faith targeted solely to women, but when I read the back cover copy, I had to be in.

In a season in my life where I feel tired, cranky, and like I just don’t fit it, it takes a little more courage to step beyond the pages of my Bible to live out what the words say.

For example, the author describes her struggle to have children and her journey to surrender that longing. I resonated deeply with her struggle to feel like her life needed to fit a certain mold. As I struggle to surrender my own longings, it was a comfort to hear of God’s faithfulness in her story, seeing how he met her in such an unconventional and beautiful way.

I would recommend Fiercehearted for those feeling worn by the season they currently find themselves in, those struggling with significance, and those looking for short bits of encouragement in a dark season. I think Gerth’s readers will find her relatable, honest, and wise.