Category Archives: Faith

While on Vacation

This spring, I spent a good chunk of time line editing, copy editing, and proofing While on Vacation, a devotional for people who are, well, on vacation. The author, Joe Graves, develops a “theology of play” and explores what the Bible has to say about rest, celebrations, and how God fits into our “breaks.” It even includes a few Sudoku puzzles! It’s up there on my list of favorite projects. If you’re taking a vacation this summer (or even taking some time off to stay home), it would be a great companion. Check it out!

Available June 15 | colorcanvasmedia.com

I’m not receiving compensation for this post. I’m sharing it because it was a fun project that I believe will add value to your life if you take the time to read it :)

Am I a Writer?

Startup Stock Photos

Startup Stock Photos

Somewhere along the way, I stopped calling myself a writer and started calling myself an editor because it was easier. I was afraid of failing, and editing is easy. At least, easy enough. With most of the editing jobs I get, there’s usually a right and a wrong answer for everything. And I know the right answer. So that makes me an editor, right?

But the type of editing I really love is the line editing—the developmental editing that gets down into the guts of the words and moves things around. It’s like surgery. It looks at everything in there, takes out what doesn’t belong, moves things around, and adds in what’s missing. It’s problem solving.

And really, that’s what writing is, too. At least for me. It solves lots of problems by providing a form of communication, fostering understanding, forcing reflection, and encouraging learning and growth.

Guys, I’m finally writing a book.

It’s a memoir. I’ve been avoiding it for a while because, honestly, I’m afraid. I’m afraid it will be hard to write, that I won’t finish, that people will judge me, that my family will hate me, that I’ll have put so much time into something no one ever reads or even wants to read.

But all of those fears don’t matter if I think of writing as problem-solving. Writing this book will answer a lot of questions for me. It will teach me a new level of discipline. It will force me to wrestle with difficult relationships where I just feel stuck. It will be an act of faith and identity—I’m going to have to come to terms with who I am and be confident enough to share that with others.

So . . . I guess I’m a writer?

Redeeming a Life of Anxiety

The Inciting Incident

Seven years ago, I was in what could have been a fatal car accident. By the grace of God, it didn’t end my life, but it did change it. Significantly. The van I was riding in hit a semi, got hit by the car behind it, and caught on fire. I walked away with a few minor physical injuries that healed within a few months.

But the trauma of the accident and the stress of the aftermath triggered anxiety and panic attacks that I’ve been dealing with ever since. I come by it honestly—I’m certainly not the first person in my family to deal with anxiety, and it’s not unusual for trauma to trigger things like this.

I tried what felt like everything to cope—willpower, prayer counseling, exercise, emotional eating, supplements, distraction, cutting out caffeine, curling up in a ball on the couch and praying for it to go away . . . Nothing worked. I wasn’t able to live a normal life. I was afraid to be alone. My days were plagued with panic attacks that I couldn’t prevent or predict.

What Anxiety Looks Like

Health conditions—mine or someone else’s—triggered my anxiety. Every time I heard a story about someone with cancer, I convinced myself I had it, too—stomach cancer, ovarian cancer, brain cancer. At other times, I was sure I had an appendicitis, an ectopic pregnancy (even though there was no chance I was pregnant), spider eggs in my sinuses. One time I overheard a conversation about someone with a bone spur on their finger. When I woke up the next day, I had a bump on my right pointer finger that didn’t go away for two weeks. I swore off WebMD and made Jonathan read through the side effects of ANY medication I was taking, because if I read them, I would panic, but if he didn’t, I might die. I stopped eating mushrooms because, what if I had developed a severe allergy to them and died of asphyxia? Any time a health segment came on the radio or TV, I shut it off. Jonathan learned to do the same.

I went to the doctor with “invisible” concerns – I couldn’t breathe, my stomach hurt, did I have a tumor? Every test came back negative. No, you don’t have asthma. Your lungs are testing much younger than your actual age. No, you don’t have an appendicitis. You just have a small cyst that ruptured (at least this one is legitimate! I thought). No, you don’t have a tumor. It’s scar tissue from that car accident you were in.

Every muscle spasm, breath, and heartbeat turned into a panic attack. And every panic attack turned into muscle pain, difficulty breathing, and a racing heart. Which turned into a panic attack. For a while, I tried breathing techniques to calm myself. But paying attention to my breathing only made me more aware of the “weird” things my body was doing, triggering another attack. It was a vicious cycle that I couldn’t stop.

Every year for four years, my doctor recommended I try a daily anxiety medication. And every year I refused. I didn’t want to be that person who had to depend on medication to be “normal.” I didn’t want the side effects. I didn’t want the association with mental illness or the judgment from other Christians who thought I didn’t have enough faith. I wanted to fix it myself, and if I took medication, it meant I was giving up.

sunrise_editionally

Hope

After a particularly helpful prayer counseling session, I had a period of respite—I believe it was God’s healing—but just a few months later, the anxiety came back with a vengeance and I felt hopeless. It’s time, I thought. I made an appointment with my doctor and told her I was ready to try medication if it meant I could have a normal life again.

Because I had been so adamant about not taking medication in the past, she wanted to be sure it’s what I wanted. We decided I’d ease into it. She prescribed half of the lowest effective dose that had been studied—just 5 mg—of Lexapro, a newer drug that was supposed to have fewer side effects. “I want you to know the difference between symptoms caused by anxiety and symptoms that you need to come in for,” she said. “It will give you peace of mind.”

I took the bottle of tiny white pills home and let it sit on the table for a week. I asked God if He could make it really clear if I was supposed to take the medication. I was so torn up about the decision I did something that scared me—when we got together with a group of friends from church, I told them about it and their response surprised me. “Take it!” they said, “God uses medication to heal people, too.”

So I started taking it. Three weeks later, it started kicking in. And the side effects were hell that resulted in an antibiotic that resulted in more side effects that were more hell. But after about six weeks, all those things subsided.

I was calm. After years of anxious, racing thoughts and physical pains, my mind and my body were at peace. I could get through the hour without thinking about cancer. I went days without panic attacks. They stretched into weeks that stretched into months. That first year, I went from having multiple panic attacks a day to having just four for the entire year. The second year was the same. My dose is still a tiny 5 mg, and I feel free.

It’s weird to think about now. I still have vivid memories of some anxiety episodes. One especially difficult one took place on our honeymoon. Jonathan was driving back roads through the mountains of West Virginia and I was beside myself thinking he would miss a turn and we’d roll down the mountain.

But that’s not my life anymore.

yin4xubaqnk-morgan-sessions

Making it Count

I’ve been thinking a lot about my struggle with anxiety and wondering if there’s a way I can make it count for something. If I had to go through all of that, I want it to mean something. And I think God does, too. Otherwise, why would He let me go through it?

So here’s what I’ve landed on: I want to make the Church a safe place for people with mental illness. I’m going to start with my church. It’s not that it’s an unsafe place, we just don’t talk about it. I don’t want people to forgo treatment like I did just because they’re afraid of how other Christians will view them. I don’t know what this is going to look like, but I do know this:

Just because you struggle with mental illness does not mean you don’t have enough faith. It doesn’t mean you’re not “spiritual” enough. It doesn’t mean you have unresolved sin in your life. (For some people, it can be a symptom of those things, but not always. I’m not going to get into that here.)

If you struggle with mental illness, I’m not going to judge you for it. Instead, I’m going to put myself out there and speak up for the both of us. I want to help people to understand, to know how to talk about it in the Church. Though I’ve never personally felt judgment from the Church for my mental illness, I have family members who have. And I have been affected by ignorance in the Church—people who don’t mean to do or say the wrong thing, they just don’t know any better.

The Challenge

So let’s be brave. And honest. Let’s be open about mental illness. And let’s not be afraid to talk about it in the Church. Let’s make the Church a safe place where people who struggle with it can find friends and find hope. Because that’s what the Church is for—sharing the hope of Jesus Christ with people who feel hopeless.

The Final Word

I’ve always known I probably care a little too much about what people think of me, but I figured it was a minor character flaw. Something little that didn’t really affect me too much, something that maybe someday I’d get over.

But I never really realized what a fundamental problem it is, how much it affects my identity, how much it affects how I see God.  Apparently God decided I needed to understand how damaging it is, because it’s been coming up EVERYwhere.

First our church did a series called “I Am.” I didn’t have any major takeaways or quotables, but it got me thinking about the topic. Then, I edited a curriculum for elementary-age boys that left me in tears because the authors told me that just because someone says something about me doesn’t make it true. Seems pretty basic, doesn’t it? But my response was, “It doesn’t? Really? I’ve been living my whole life like it does.” And then I read this post by Donald Miller and he cemented the message: “I do not believe God will ever, ever, lean over and ask any other human being whether or not I should be let into heaven. It isn’t going to happen.” Wow.

It’s still sinking in. But let me tell you, God is really changing how I see myself. It’s hard to change 28 years of thinking. And it’s also freeing. I’m still learning how to live in that freedom and be comfortable in my own skin.

Maybe you’re like me and you care too much what people think about you. Maybe you don’t understand what God says about you or why that matters when other people don’t know that. If that’s you, know this:

Just because someone says something about you doesn’t make it true. God knows your heart. And since He’s the final judge, that’s all that matters anyway. 

Breaking Rules Isn’t the Problem

God used a book to make me aware of my people problem. I was sitting on the couch watching TV when something slammed against the front door. I jumped and saw the UPS man climbing back in his truck. Weird. I wasn’t expecting a delivery.

When I opened the door, there was a small cardboard package from Barnes and Noble with my name on it. Curious, I tore into it and found the book People Over Profit by Dale Partridge (the founder of Sevenly). But I didn’t order it. I never order my books from Barnes and Noble. Jonathan didn’t order it. It couldn’t be a review book—those always come directly from the publisher. I asked my boss if he sent it. (His response was, “No. Did you want me to?”) I even called Barnes and Noble. The lady on the phone was obnoxious—”I can see why it would be unsettling to get a book you don’t remember ordering. Did you check your credit card bill?” Uggh. There was no order number, no packing slip. She transferred me to a different department and then they hung up on me. Where the heck did the book come from?

peopleoverprofitI still don’t know. But since it was about the very same issue God was dealing with in my heart, I decided I needed to read it. It wasn’t life-changing, but there was so much wisdom. I think anyone who works with people—coworkers, clients, customers, church attendees, whatever—should read it. It was a quick, easy read full of practical advice:

“After all, the killer of quality is not efficiency. Rather, it’s the desire to do things at a pace that can only be achieved by compromising one’s values and mission” (pg. 36).

“How you make others feel about themselves says a lot about you” (pg. 63).

“The marketplace, left to itself, doesn’t see people” (pg. 64).

“When you say a company believes that people matter, it means they hold the following convictions: People are valuable. No Person is worth more than another. Every person deserves to be treated fairly and with respect. Organizations should be empathetic to all people they touch” (pg. 65).

“Too many companies treat their customers like a mere metric of profitability . . . they’ve begun operating as though customers exist to serve them rather than the other way around . . . A ‘people-matter’ organization works to make customers feel special and valued. They don’t just tell patrons that they want their business; they work to retain it” (pg. 67).

“Companies are good at valuing some of the people they touch, but few value all of them” (pg. 71).

“Companies that believe people matter must believe that all people matter” (pg. 72).

“We often forget that every organization is just a group of people–individuals with hearts, minds, desires, hopes, and feelings who are enlivened by a common mission” (pg. 75).

“By adopting “people-matter” principles and fusing them into an organization, companies can build a loyal tribe of individuals who will fight alongside their leaders and help build an unstoppable enterprise” (pg. 75).

“Authenticity is the act of telling people what you believe and care about, not telling them what you think they want you to believe or care about” (pg. 106).

“It requires bravery to accept who you are and stop trying to be what you think people want” (pg. 112).

“Quality isn’t what you say it is; it’s what they say it is” (pg. 124).

“Quality means listening, responding, and making changes quickly” (pg. 125).

“Look for ways to build the incredible into the ordinary . . . offer them the freedom to do for one what they wish they could do for all” (pg. 133).

“We should give because we love others, because we want to meet their needs, and because we believe that people matter” (pg. 138).

“Fear kills more dreams than failure ever will” (pg. 147).

“When you sense fear of the unknown, it’s often a sign you need to walk into, not away from, what is repelling you” (pg. 174).

Want to read more about my people problem? Check out these two posts: People Matter (more than rules) and I Don’t Follow the Rules.

The Chase by Kyle & Kelsey Kupecky

the_chaseI stepped out of my box a bit to review this book. I’ve been married for over six years now, so I don’t usually pick up books written for single girls. But since that’s all I used to read, I thought it couldn’t hurt to give this one a try and see if it might be useful for someone else.

The Chase encourages teenage girls to chase after God rather than guys. The authors, Kyle and Kelsey Kupecky, have been married since 2012. They take turns sharing bits of their own love story as they present some important truths about dating.

I really wanted to like it, but I just didn’t. The writing was mediocre and voice-less, the stories weren’t that interesting, and I could tell they hadn’t been married for very long when they wrote it. (That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but the depth that comes with years of marriage just wasn’t there. To be fair, I’m a 28-year-old married woman, not the single teenage girl the book is written for, so maybe that doesn’t matter.) Just a few chapters in, I felt like their platform—Kelsey is the daughter of well-known author Karen Kingsbury and Kyle is a Christian recording artist—is what got the book published, not their skills or experience.

A few worldview things parents may want to know . . . 1) The Kupeckys seem to believe that if God calls you to be married, He has one person chosen for you, as opposed to believing there’s no such thing as a soulmate—that there are multiple people you could build a happy and successful life with. 2) The Kupeckys tell several stories of people they dated before they met. So if you’re opposed to dating, this book may not be a good choice for your kids.

Bottom line: it wasn’t terrible, but there are better books out there for single teenage girls who need a godly perspective on relationships. My favorite is Boy Meets Girl by Joshua Harris.

2 stars—It was okay and I probably won’t recommend it.
(Read more about my rating system here.)

I received a copy of this book from Revell in exchange for my honest review. The opinions are my own and were not influenced by the publisher or author.

I Don’t Follow the Rules

My boss’ gentle reminder to love people was just the start of many, many indications that I have a problem. After that conversation, symptoms started showing up everywhere—other people would talk about their struggles with the same issue, a pastor would preach about it, someone even sent me a book about it (more about that in my next post!).

I’ve learned that when God wants me to work on something, this is exactly how He gets my attention—He sends me the same message a thousand different ways until I notice the pattern and start to do something about it.

When I was praying about it, I felt the Holy Spirit nudge me to read what Romans says about grace and the law. I’ve read it a million times in hopes that I might figure out the mysterious and complicated relationship between God’s law and grace. I even took an entire class on the book of Romans in college.

Here are a few things I wrote in my journal after that reading:

“God, You’re challenging me to value people more than rules. You love them whether they follow the rules or not, and I should too. Why is it so hard to do? I like it when people follow the rules. I know what to expect. It gives me some control over the situation.”

Yikes. There’s that word: control. That’s another thing I struggle with.

“How do I love them? How do You?”

I really wanted God to tell me. I obviously had no clue.

“You love me even when I’m mean and manipulative. Even when I’m lazy and controlling and micromanaging. When I’m forgetful. When I’m petty. When I’m selfish. When I’m judgmental. When I’m wrong. Even when I’m ugly. Even when I’m fat.”

(Ugly and fat have more to do with my self-esteem issues, but that’s anther discussion entirely.)

“The law is useful for many things, but it’s not where my salvation comes from. And that’s how I’m supposed to love other people, too.

“It’s like Jesus’ death and resurrection and my salvation are God’s way of saying, ‘Hey, she’s not perfect, but I want her here anyway. I love working with her and she adds value to our team. I don’t expect her to get it right every time, but I trust her. I know who she is and what she stands for because she’s Mine. And that covers a multitude of mistakes.'”

When I realized God gives me the same kind of grace I try to give my coworkers, it became a lot easier to understand why and how to love people who don’t follow the rules.

Because I don’t follow the rules.

Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin (Romans 4:7–8).

Even if we’re smart, even if we’re hard workers, even if we do everything right, we have God’s favor because of our relationship with Him. Following the rules is just icing on the cake. And it makes it a whole lot easier for Him to use us and convince others to work with us.

We don’t get God’s blessings because we follow the rules. We get them because He loves us.

People Matter (more than rules)

At my last job review, my boss reminded me that my job is ministry and I need to remember that when dealing with people. He was absolutely right. It’s something I forget, especially with the behind-the-scenes nature of my job.

After lots of thinking and praying about that conversation, I’ve realized something about myself: I love people . . . but only when they follow the rules.

I’ve been a rule-follower my whole life. Maybe it’s because I’m a first-born. Maybe it’s my personality. Maybe it’s because I don’t like conflict. Whatever the reasons, I’ve always been afraid of breaking the rules. So I’m excellent at following directions. And I’m great at doing everything someone asks for and more. But when other people don’t do that, I just can’t handle it.

Not long ago, a few people from our church needed my help to put an event together. It was on short notice and they had a lot of requests for things that should have been taken care of much, much sooner. It meant that I had to ask other departments for favors and apologize for lateness that wasn’t my fault. I didn’t like how it was making me look; I’d worked so hard to redeem the reputation of the youth department! Rather than suck it up and do everything I could to help, I got angry. I was less than helpful, complained a ton, and let everyone within earshot know that it was not my fault. I even sent an email to the organizers outlining every “rule” they were breaking and why I was having so much trouble pulling things together for them. Now, it wasn’t worded quite that harshly, but it’s not an email I’m proud of. (This ordeal may or may not have been the reason I got that bit of constructive criticism in my job review.)

Unfortunately, this is not the only example. I get irritated with people who don’t follow the rules of the road, grammar, and etiquette. And at the bowling alley . . . if I’m in the lane next to you and you throw your ball while I’m standing on the approach, you can bet I’m going to be super irritated. (Perhaps this is just me–my high school bowling team days were serious business.)

I’m not usually loud about my anger and frustration. In fact, I tend to be pretty passive aggressive about it—I’ll tell everyone but you that I’m annoyed. My heart is SO in the wrong place.

But God seems to be putting in overtime to teach me what seems like such a simple lesson: People matter (more than rules).

Check back later this week—I’m going to post some of the ways God has been teaching me that lesson.

Girl Meets Change by Kristen Strong

I was so, so excited to review this book. I’m in the middle of a hectic season of change at work (our lead pastor just retired in August and I’m switching positions), and I was looking for something that would shine some light onto what feels like a hopeless and overwhelming situation. Just a few weeks ago, I broke down in sobs in the middle of a pretty important meeting. I’ve never lost it like that at work before. But I just couldn’t hold it in anymore. I needed this book to meet me where I was and help me dig through all the gunk to get to the root of the issue.

Unfortunately, Girl Meets Change just didn’t do that for me. It wasn’t what I was expecting. I needed practical ways to cope and assurance that I’d come out stronger on the other side. I needed a book that would force me to face the real issue, not just say “Yes, change is hard, but God has a plan and you’re going to be okay.” That’s what my husband is for. I needed someone to problem solve with me. Someone to gently probe and figure out what heart issues I need to be working through right now.

The author, Kristen Strong, did offer a few strategies (I can’t find my copy of the book to give examples), but they weren’t anything new, and they just weren’t enough. I felt like the book just barely skimmed the surface of change and how to grow through it instead of going deep into the things you wrestle with when you’re in the thick of it. Maybe it’s a good read for people who aren’t in a season of change right now, but not for people in the thick of it?

All that said, the book has gotten some pretty positive reviews from other people, so maybe I’m crazy. Every once in a while I come down so hard on a book that I wonder if I missed something while I was reading, like maybe the author did something brilliant and I was too stupid to catch it. That’s how I’ve been feeling about this one. So read it for yourself, I guess, and let me know if you think I’m crazy.

(And in case you’re wondering, God is faithful. He’s helped me dig through all of the stuff that has surfaced in my heart in the midst of this season of change. I’m not out yet, but I’m headed in the right direction.)

One Star
(Learn about my star system here.)

I received a copy of this book from Revell in exchange for my honest review. The opinions are my own and were not influenced by the publisher or author.

How to Love Your Neighbor Without Being Weird by Amy Lively

Four Stars
(Learn about my star system here.)

It was a Sunday morning and my mom, aunt, and I were headed to the store. We loved Jesus, but we weren’t regular church-goers at the time. Halfway there, we got a flat tire.

Now, we were capable of taking care of it ourselves. My mom and aunt had probably changed over a dozen flat tires over the years. But when a young family in a minivan pulled over to help us, we were relieved. The husband got out to change our tire while the wife stayed close to the vehicle to keep an eye on the kids. As we handed over our jack, he said, “We were on our way to church, but we figured God would forgive us for being late if it meant helping you.”

That has always stuck with me. I want to be that person who’s willing to put aside my “religious duties” in order to love people the way Jesus wants me to. I want to love my neighbor the same way that family loved us–sacrificially and honestly, with a willingness to talk about Jesus and an ability to behave like a normal human being.

how to love your neighborThat’s what Amy Lively’s book, How to Love Your Neighborhood Without Being Weird, is all about. I’m not sure why I chose this book for a review, especially since Amy says “I should warn you that you’re on the hook now that you’ve read this book. You have no excuse for not loving your neighbor” (pg. 191).

Amy takes Jesus’ command to love your neighbors quite literally. As someone who’s started and sustained a successful neighborhood ministry, she’s excited to share her tips and reasons for reaching out to the people who live next door and across the street.

Not only am I an introvert who treasures my quiet time and space, I just get really uncomfortable around people I don’t know. Meeting someone new is a draining experience, one that I tend to avoid. When you live in an apartment building, sometimes it seems easier to NOT know your neighbors. Sometimes you’d rather not have them know that you know what types of noises they’re making that keep you up all night. Sometimes you just want to pound on the ceiling at three in the morning because they just won’t shut up. It’s a lot harder to do that when you have a personal relationship. And if you have that personal relationship, you probably won’t feel comfortable complaining about that noise at all. At least not if you live in Minnesota, where “Minnesota nice” replaces the Golden Rule.

Anyway, I’d rather just not know my neighbors. But last time I went to the grocery store down the street, I realized something: nearly every time I go there, the family in line in front of me is using some type of government food voucher. That says something about the area we live in–there are a lot of needs, and a lot of ways my husband and I could can bless our neighbors and bring Jesus to our city.

Easier said than done, though, right?

Lively offers some great reasons to reach out to your neighbors and backs them up with spot-on scripture passages that challenged my thinking. She also provided a TON of practical tips for meeting, getting to now, and blessing the people who live near you. And if you check out her website (Ioveyourneighbor.com), you can get great resources including adorable invitations, tips, and planning sheets–all available as free downloads.

While I didn’t like how much this book made me squirm (this stuff is SO outside my comfort zone. Like, I’m Minnesota and this stuff is China), I don’t have many complaints about the book. I did struggle with the organization a bit–the content seemed to jump back and forth, but it didn’t keep me from getting some great ideas.

I’d recommend How to Love Your Neighbor to anyone who needs a little push to get to know the people around them. It’d be a great read for a women’s small group. The discussion questions at the end of each chapter would spur on some great conversations.

I received a copy of this book from Bethany House Publishers in exchange for my honest review. The opinions are my own and were not influenced by the publisher or author.