Monday, July 10, 2017

Praying the Psalms, a Review

Source: NetGalley
Praying the Psalms: Growing Emotionally Closer to God and Those You Love, by Rick Stedman
Publisher: Harvest House Publishers
Publication date: October 1, 2016
Category: Christian, nonfiction, motivational
Source: I received this galley from NetGalley for consideration of a review.

Rick Stedman has written a series of books on prayer, the latest a teaching on how to pray the Psalms of the Bible. Early on in his book he gives a good description of what this entails and the benefits he sees in learning to pray the Psalms: "The Psalms are not church-lady approved, sanitized prayers. They are real, edgy, and authentic—even violent at times. In praying the Psalms, we learn to face our deepest hopes, hurts, and fears and to bring them to God in brutally honest prayer. We learn to identify and express a wide range of emotions, while at the same time keeping those emotions from ruling our lives. We learn how to handle hate and anger, overcome guilt and sorrow, and experience grace and mercy. After all, the only place to learn these skills is within real relationships, which is very clever of God. In the process, we find intimacy with God, deeper community with others, and—in what is perhaps the biggest surprise of all—we discover our very selves."

He provides a four step method for praying the Psalms, which consists of finding emotional words while reading a Psalm aloud, journaling the words in connection to personal experience, and formulating prayers from there. Stedman then spends a good portion of the book working through the first ten Psalms as examples of this practice. A number of word lists wrap up the book - emotional words found by certain categories to help you find Psalms that may be more relevant at a certain time.

For anyone looking for a new way to pray - and specifically to pray using the Bible - Rick Stedman's book is what you are looking for.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

The God Who Sees Me

In my posting last week, I found this post - written and ready to publish - sitting as a draft on my dashboard. I wrote it the week after Mother's Day and forgot to post it. Can't let a post go to waste, and even though Mother's Day was a month ago, the beauty of the moment hasn't faded. So here it is.

It's no secret that motherhood is hard. From the first days home, new moms find out they really didn't know the extent of the responsibility, hard work, or absolute love. And even though the workload of motherhood is not a secret, we live as if it is.

The Saturday before Mother's Day 2017, my great day ended a little bit in the dumps. At the end of a long week and dealing with the unique stress of parenting teenagers, with thoughts of what Mother's Day is all about swirling in my head, I felt unnoticed and unappreciated as a mother. Not guilty over what I do and don't do - simply unnoticed for what I do. It is perhaps the biggest sacrifice of motherhood, to continue on whether or not anyone seems to notice or appreciate your efforts. 

In an effort to ease these feelings, my husband posted a sweet picture of us and our great day together that Saturday to social media. Honestly though, by then my long week and stress were joined by the comparison trap - myself to others. Knowing this kind of thinking takes me nowhere but down has never stopped me from following the spiral previously, but somewhere in a corner of my mind I paused to whisper a five second prayer, "God show me I'm noticed." Because in a world where we are all aching to be noticed in some way, Truth says there is One who always notices, whether we feel it in the moment or not. 

By Sunday morning quite a few posts had popped up on social media feeds, some people I barely know, detailing acknowledgement of mothers for everything they do and everything they are. Of course, we love to see such women acknowledged, but mixed with our admiration, we need to be aware of feeding the comparison trap as well. The best way to combat something so strong is to make the choice to step out in front of it, put your foot down, and say, "This will proceed no further." Already a step ahead of myself in taking the thought and feeling captive, wanting my loved ones to know I appreciate all they do as moms, I had filled out cards, mailed personalized notes, and sent messages a few days before Mother's Day. As God has aptly shown me in the past year, and to paraphrase Ann Voskamp, to live in your brokenness - given out to others - is to allow God to turn your brokenness to good, to perhaps even heal your own brokenness.

Getting ready to attend my sister's church for her son's baby dedication the morning of Mother's Day, I received a text from my 15-year-old daughter to make sure I come into the house when I pick them up at grandma's (where they had spent the night). I told her daddy was coming, I was still getting ready, and why did she need me to come anyway? Her reply: It's for Mother's Day.

I showed up to my daughter and a beautiful, body length blanket she had stayed up until 4am - working six hours - to make for me for Mother's Day. I had gone to bed at 3am after my husband and I spent 12 hours away, driving our oldest home from a prom she attended an hour and a half away, quite mindful of that crazy bedtime hour with so much going on the next day. And here, my younger daughter had stayed up even later than that, sacrificing for me in the moment I was sacrificing for someone else?! The absolute feeling of being loved washed over me. The fabric is a heavy, ultra soft fleece - combining my love of warm blankets and dachshunds all at once. Plus, my mother-in-law had not only taken her to the store, but also purchased the materials needed for it to happen. Double the love.

And it hit me while singing "I surrender all..." in church half an hour later, God had heard my five second prayer the night before. I had sent it up in a quick moment, with barely the faith of a mustard seed and little thought of it afterward, and it came back to me in complete blessing. My child noticed me. My husband gave me a beautiful card - he had noticed me.

At lunch that afternoon I received a card from my sister, a new mother celebrating her first Mother's Day. It began with the words, "You might feel like no one notices..." and had a hand written note inside praising me and stating admiration that just blew me away. I struggled not to cry in my seat as I read it. I gave her a hug, told her the card was perfect, and spent a good meal with my family, loving on my nephew.

Back home after lunch, my youngest and only son approached me with a hand made and perfectly worded (all by himself!) Mother's Day card...complete with a stuffed dachshund (notice a pattern here?). The stuffed animal had been hidden in his closet for a month, waiting for today. Grandma helped him plan it.

Dinner was spent at a local Hibachi place with my in-laws, their treat. What a great meal, filled with laughter, and some of the precious little time we are all together at once. Complete with a beautiful card claiming things about me that I don't always believe about myself from my niece and nephew. A friend of mine, who didn't know of my specific feelings as a mother at the moment, but knew the challenges the weekend presented with my kids, schedule, and other conflicts, checked in with me a couple times to see how the days and events had gone. To top if off, my oldest daughter and I made it through a whole weekend of events we would potentially fight about without fighting! Even when I messed up her graduation invitations by forgetting to put the date and had to affix the date to each invite with an obviously added-on label made by a label-maker.

By the end of the day, so much unexpected love and appreciation had been poured upon me from my family; but, I'm unsure some of them realize exactly what they did for me. What I do know is today was more than the usual Mother's Day. Mother's Day up until now had been like any other day for me. I've received cards and gifts on past Mother's Days, so how was this one so different?

In my heart, I knew I was noticed. By the end of the day, it was more than just my family who noticed, it was God. I didn't try to find or manipulate anything or anyone for attention, I handed over the negative feeling, and I asked for Him to show me I was noticed and He made it abundantly clear that He had seen me all along. So clear that all the public posts in the world boasting praise of my motherhood couldn't compare. What else matters when you know in your heart God sees you? When you know the very people who make you a mother, wife, daughter, sister, and best friend see you.

"She gave this name to the Lord who spoke to her: 'You are the God who sees me,' for she said, 'I have now seen the One who sees me.'" Genesis 16:13

My nephew Maximus

Friday, June 23, 2017

Quietness and Trust


This past Wednesday turned into a day where one thing after another (both big and small) went wrong like a snowball effect and made me come a little undone. The day had started out beautifully, but by dinner time I was pacing around, unable to sit or focus, annoyed beyond belief at the the accumulation of stupid stuff that had ruined my day. And worse, I couldn't escape it because where I went, there too was the anger and frustration.

The next day, Thursday morning, I read Isaiah 30 and verse 15 leapt from the page: "This is what the Sovereign LORD, the Holy One of Israel, says: 'In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it.'" Quietness + Trust = Strength, but indeed I would have none of it the day before. How many times has God pointed me to "be still and know" in the past year? To quiet myself and trust in His strength to fight for me, for my day, for my situation, etc. Yet, I continue trying to put my life back together on my own, causing more frustration.

Because Thursday I woke up to a new day, where the problems of yesterday were taken care of in part and the things still there didn't seem like mountains, but the molehills they actually were. Which means my upset of Wednesday accomplished nothing but ruining my mood and my day. If I had slowed, prayed, and trusted, how differently might my day have gone? And how silly to look back and see what upset me. Only one thing of the whole day was worth being upset about and even then, that problem was taken care of in the end.

And so I repent and rest in this truth, urging myself and everyone willing to hear God's call in this verse, to continue learning and living the art of abiding. To be quiet (still) and trust (know) that God's strength will pull us through. But it takes our choosing to stop and challenge the torrent running through our heads with trust in God's strength to be our own. At some point we have to muster the faith to take that trust-powered stand.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Me, Myself, and Lies

Me, Myself, & Lies (for Young Women), by Jennifer Rothschild
Publisher: Harvest House Publishers
Publication date: April 11, 2017 (for Young Women on May 1, 2017)
Category: Christian, nonfiction
Source: I received this galley from NetGalley in consideration for review.

Sometimes a book's title says it all. Me, Myself, & Lies, by Jennifer Rothschild, speaks to the issue of negative self-talk. Lies we tell ourselves about ourselves - things that are essentially untrue. For example, you are not an idiot for forgetting to bring your grocery list to the store - you are human and humans make mistakes. Seems trivial? Science has proven that repeated actions burn new neural pathways in our brains. So years of accusing yourself or calling yourself names on even the "silly" level definitely sets you up to feel like and live like a failure in the end.

Rothschild references a well known quote I have on a plaque in my classroom. Although she quotes it with a different wording, my plaque reads:

Ultimately, the things we think about ourselves will form who we are. Yes, we may be successful in different areas in life, but your success does not define you. Proverbs even states that "For as he thinks within himself, so he is” (23: 7 NASB). To quote Rothschild directly, "In other words, the way you live is a reflection of the way you think."

Rothschild describes our minds as though closets and the thoughts as clothing we can choose to put on and take off. We must choose to take off the negative comments, relabel them with God's truth, and wear the truth instead. For example, you are not an idiot, you are beloved. The edition of this book for young women speaks to specific issues and examples pertaining to teenagers and young adults. Here she provides seven must-have "pieces" needed for your thought closet: daily maintenance, hope, water, memory, chill, perseverance, and heart. Each of the seven pieces is broken down in categories that deal with issues of anger, control, feelings, identity, and many more.

Overall, these books provide step by step guidance in fixing your thought process and guiding your mind onto a better pathway. A great resource for those who have wandered how to apply the well known verse that instructs us to, "take every thought captive to obey Christ" (2 Corinthians 10:5).

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Out of the Box Summer

A couple weeks ago, I finished my first year of my PhD with straight A's. I went straight from finishing my college semester to focusing on finishing my school year as a teacher, which meant grading 86 research papers and teaching one more book in the remaining three weeks of May. Happy to say I finished the last of those papers today and besides another day and half of classes, I am free!

Well, free of my full time job for a few months, but not free from the ebb and flow of life. Next week will lead me straight into planning the rest of my daughter's graduation party: ordering food, making decorations, and putting together picture collages. She's a full time college student next fall and our relationship will begin to change. I don't know how to navigate it all quite yet, but I'm desperate to find a decent balance of parent she still needs and the friend I will eventually fully become.

The party at the end of June will give way to a few days of taking care of our friends' two boys while they are away on a trip. Bringing my two younger kiddos as back up, of course. Triple teaming them ensures we all come out alive and happy! Haha! I am looking forward to getting to know the boys better. The past year has definitely taken a toll on my connections to my close friends' families and I feel I've missed some milestones.

A week later, my husband and I are off to Israel for ten days. This is a trip of a lifetime for more than one reason. First of all, it's a pilgrimage for us - to walk where Jesus walked. I am expecting big things - to come back refreshed, fulfilled, and ready with a new word for my path. Second, my husband and I have never been on a trip together, not even a honeymoon. Although we'll be traveling with a mix of friends and new acquaintances, our kids won't be there and the evenings will be ours to do as we please. I get nervous when my kids take simple trips away, so this will be a challenge even as it is a dream come true. Third, besides Canada, we've never been out of the country. Besides a one hour flight to Chicago, we've never spent any significant amount of time on a plane. This is the Middle East! The flight is nonstop eleven hours one way! This trip tests everything I've said I would never do, because leaving the comfort and familiarity of home challenges me on every level - physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. Yet, even in my most nervous moments, I feel the desperate tug to go. 

Two weeks after returning from Israel, my children and I are meeting friends just outside of Myrtle Beach, SC where we all rented a beach house for the first week of August. My husband just started a new job and they so graciously gave him unpaid time for the Israel trip (which he shouldn't have received), so he won't be going on the beach trip with us. I travelled once before without him, chaperoning our church's youth group to Ocean City, MD. But this feels crazy. The trip was meant to be one more family trip, as our oldest daughter's schedule will change more drastically as a full time college student next year. So in that vein, it makes sense to be upset my husband won't be there. But, this is how in a box I have kept my life: I can't fathom that I am driving my kids all the way down there husband always does the driving. I'm going to have family vacation photos without him in them? I can't fathom that I am spending an actual vacation without my husband...he's my comfort in my out of the box situations.

The week we get back from the beach, I go back to in-service days for teaching, my students come the following week, and my next PhD semester follows the week after that. And the crazy begins again...not that it's stopping over summer to begin with.

I typically don't like this much busyness...I likes gaps of break time between events. But this year is different. These events are all amazing and special in some way. They are all extremely personal to me for different reasons, but also for the same reason - I have to step out of my box and trust God. It's almost like someone planned it out for me - a summer of out of the box living. All of these events usher in endings that also serve as beginnings. One thing is sure - I won't make it to the end of the summer the same person I began it as.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

When a Girl Chooses to Realize...

In November I wrote a post called "Set Apart,"in which I discussed how my journey into my PhD often felt like because I had to give up things, or things changed on me, that I was being set aside. Yet, through prayer, Bible reading, and great encouraging Christian writers (namely Lysa Terkeurst in this case), I knew there was more to it. That I wasn't being set aside, but set apart for God's greater purpose. 

Here, now, with my first full year of my PhD officially wrapped up (and the second semester easier than the first), the feeling of being set aside continues to pop has become much more personal and has been an impossibly hard thing that, mixed with my insecurities and worry, has tried to take me down. Besides feeling left out, there is nothing quite like looking in on something from the outside when you used to be the one on the inside. Especially when you didn't realize quite how on the outside you had become. I know there will never be a time where we are completely free of such trials and challenges, but I'd hoped to have made an inroad on this particular challenge by now.

It's glorious to think that in the midst of heartache, God has a purpose and calling for it. To think that the things we feel left out of may just serve to set us apart so we can prepare for a new purpose. But in the moment it just seems in the world can this feeling mean good things on the horizon?

Today, as I experienced this yet again, in the midst of an otherwise happy day, Lysa TerKeurst's original phrase came to me in the aftermath of feelings:

"There is something wonderfully sacred that happens when a girl chooses to realize that being 'set aside' is actually God's call for her to be 'set apart.' This is true.
To be set aside is to be rejected. To be set apart is to be given an assignment that requires preparation.
Embrace the preparation. And remember you are set apart, beautiful one. Chosen. Adored. And reserved for a high and holy calling."

I've read those words so many times - I have "set apart" tattooed on my arm to remind me for goodness' sake! But let me tell you, you can tattoo yourself into a rainbow of beautiful, catchy phrases and reminders, but it will mean nothing until God sinks it into your heart. 

As I drove away with a wrench in my heart, replaying the hurt, Terkeurst's words running through my mind, it hit me. The key words in TerKeurst's phrase aren't "set apart" - the key words are "when a girl chooses to realize..." 

The set apart piece is God's truth - it is what it is. But I have to choose to believe and trust in that truth to activate it in my life or I will go nowhere with it. If I do not stand up and literally choose to believe and trust, the hurt will continue to hurt and the next time will feel worse, and the time after that will be devastating. And the moment will come again - there's always a next time. Choice is the key - choosing to stop, take a deep breath, state what you know to be true, and pray. The next time, the hurt will be less and it will be easier to choose, and maybe a few times after that the situation will cease to wreck my heart at all...because I will know that I am not set aside, but set apart. 

So today, with the stinging still in my heart, I am choosing to believe I am not set aside, but that I am set apart. I trust that, that place I used to inhabit, but now feel set aside from, will come to serve a fresh and new purpose in the future God is shaping for me. And if not, that I have served that place and people well in the time God chose for me to inhabit it.

He who has eyes to see, let him see and he who has ears to hear, let him hear.

#setapart #higheranddeeper #koinonia #eucharisteo #nothingtolose #everythingtogain

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Rhythms of Rest

Rhythms of Rest: Finding the Spirit of Sabbath in a Busy World, by Shelly Miller
Publisher: Bethany House Publishers
Publication date: October 4, 2016
Category: nonfiction, Christian, motivational, How-to/self-help
Source: I received this galley from NetGalley for consideration of a review.

Rest. Seems it's not easy to come by these days if you have any semblance of a life. Church, family, friends, work, school, fun, hobbies, domestic chores (from major repairs to laundry)...the list just doesn't end. Rest is like an elusive fairy tale, something from a long gone era. Who has time for that, as much as we want to?

Yet, it's a commandment - to observe the Sabbath and keep it holy (Exodus 20:8). This tells me two things: it is possible and it is needed. So how does Sabbath look in the lives of 21st century Christians?

Alongside biblical commandments, that "to-do" list above probably makes it obvious why I took interest in Rhythms of Rest - I know I need it and can't quite figure how to find it. In the past year of readjusting my schedule for schooling, I have come across a few moments where I chose rest over work and it proved beneficial, but I would like to make this a consistent way of life.

Among the first things Miller makes clear is that rest looks differently among individuals. And even for one individual, "rhythms shift while remaining focused on what is most important." As much as most of us love routine for its ease and predictability, your rest is a rhythm that will not necessarily stay the same from one week to the next. Perhaps this is why we find rest so hard to do - it lacks routine. But good news, rest is scientifically proven: "A plethora of studies show that the brain requires alternating periods of structured work followed by unstructured rest in order to maximize function." So right way, we need to forget the guilt factor - there aren't rules, just the need for rest.

Another point Miller touches on is that the idea of Sunday as the one rest day doesn't apply as it did before. Rest is any time of any day in which we take time to relax from our work, at times to spend it in solitude, or with family, friends, or God. Sabbath gives us a break to stop, clear our minds, and relinquish control:

"When the mind is focused entirely a problem, we lose sight of God’s place within it. We pit ourselves against all the details as if the problem is ours to conquer immediately. Anxious and tense, we can wrongly assume that unless we achieve total victory, we will lose the battle and defeat will be our legacy. Sabbath provides space between you and your problems, enabling you to see from God’s perspective, often with surprising results, like a word breaking through your questions about life and awakening you to something more important. God is always near, but we often dismiss his powerful presence in the midst of pain and hardship."

Rest is not just for the purpose of regaining energy to hop back into the busyness - it's for the purpose of recollecting ourselves and going back into our schedules truly refreshed and perhaps even with new Godly perspective. And let's face it - none of us can go nonstop and make it through at our best.

Hopefully, you are convinced that rest is a need at this point - it should be top of your "to-do" list! If so, pick up Miller's book for further discussion on how our rest is met with resistance and even sabotage, but how we can stop trying so hard and maximize our rest.