Category Archives: Faith

You Don’t Need a Crisis to Be Thankful

3-doug-robichaudRecently I started reading through my old journals. So, so many struggles that now I don’t even remember. The only account is what I wrote in those journals. And now they don’t seem so important. That box of journals is my monument, my testament of what God has done in my life, my reminder of what He’s brought me through.

A few weeks ago I attended a women’s ministry event at church that started with a few songs of worship. As I sat between two dear friends who have been going through a lot of hard things lately, I realized that I’m not. I’m not going through anything hard right now.

My first reaction was to feel unspiritual. How silly is that? I felt like I couldn’t possibly be learning anything if I wasn’t going through something hard. But I felt like Jesus whispered, “But look at all the hard things I’ve brought you through over the past few years.” My mind wandered back to the car accident, the school closing, the midnight panic attacks, the divorce, the days of paralyzing anxiety, the pain of not getting my dream job . . . and I was overcome.

For the first time in about a year, I cried (thank you, anxiety medication!) and fully surrendered myself to worshipping Jesus and thanking Him for His work in my life. I didn’t need a hard circumstance to focus my eyes on Jesus and be reminded of His grace in my life. I can do that anytime. I can thank Him in the GOOD and in the bad.

The next time I go through something difficult, I’ll remember that night, that reminder of God’s faithfulness in my life. And I’ll have what I need to push through and come out okay on the other side.

He is Risen Indeed

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Good Friday is a solemn celebration, a reminder of how bad things were—how bad things are. It’s a reminder of what life is like without Jesus. Most years it rains, or at least clouds over with darkness.

But Easter is bright and hopeful. A celebration of grace and love and life and mercy, a reminder that we’re loved by an all-knowing, all-powerful Creator who became flesh and died so we could spend eternity with Him.

Spring (at least in the Midwest) is the perfect time to celebrate the juxtaposition of life and death that holy week brings—bleakness and bright hope.

The seasons mirror the work God does in our lives, in our world. It’s a cycle of life and death. A reminder that good things come to an end, but for a reason. It’s not senseless. It’s not the last word. Death is required for new life to break forth. The leaves must turn crisp and fall, the peaceful white snow must cover the land, hiding that death and ushering in the new life that comes with spring. The birds start to sing again. The flowers send shoots up out of the soil. The air embraces you with a warm breeze. Summer is coming. Sunday is coming.

As I’m preparing my heart for Easter, I’m remembering just how bad it was before He came—how bad my life could have been without Jesus—and I’m praising God for the new life He brings.

He is risen. He is risen indeed.

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Worry Less So You Can Live More by Jane Rubietta

worrylessI thought I would hate this book. That’s actually why I picked it. I thought it would be easy to disagree with, to pick apart, because so many books that claim to be about worry and anxiety offer pat answers that don’t really help—and often disregard completely—the struggle of someone who deals with anxiety at the level of mental illness.

I should know better than to make my judgments based on a generic title—Worry Less So You Can Live More—and vague back cover copy written by the marketing department.

Right away the author (Jane Rubietta) addressed my biggest fear about this book: “If you feel you have Generalized Anxiety Disorder, suffer from panic attacks, or deal with other serious problems, then please seek professional hep, and take this book with you (pg. 13).” It felt like reconciliation to see a Christian author recognize that mental illness is a real thing and not brush it off with an “It’s all in your head,” or a quick, “You just need to trust God.” Because, sadly, so many Christians respond that way.

This entire book felt like a giant hug from someone who gets it—one of those hugs that comes right when you need it. I don’t know if Jane has struggled with the level of anxiety that I have, but she certainly writes like she has. She’s specific enough to give concrete ideas for dealing with worry, but vague enough to let you fill in the blanks and apply her insights to your own situation. She shares her thoughts, but she doesn’t preach. I didn’t feel belittled or brushed off.

Every time I picked up this book, I knew I would feel lighter when I put it down again.

Jane wrote about how delight, physical activity, recalling God’s faithfulness, shedding healing tears, understanding your identity in Christ, and anticipating Jesus can slow worry to a crawl and sometimes halt it completely. She doesn’t claim to have all the answers or be able to solve all your problems, but she offers understanding and empathy that brought me more comfort than I could have imagined.

Combine the content with Jane’s lovely, artistic, Annie-Dillard-ish prose (I LOVE Annie Dillard), and you’re left with a book that needs to be read by any woman who worries about anything, whether it’s panic-attack-inducing worry or the kind that hides in your check book and jumps out when it’s time to pay the bills. Even if you aren’t a worrier, Jane will help you recapture the delight of your childhood and harness it to make adulthood a little easier.

Please read Worry Less So You Can Live More. It’s wonderful. You can buy it here.

To read about one way this book has affected me, check out my last post.

I received a free copy of this book from Bethany House Publishers in exchange for my honest review. My opinion is my own and was not influenced by the author or publisher.

Finding God at the End of the Path

trailIt’s no secret that I don’t like where we live. Our apartment is great, but the area leaves a lot be desired. At least for me. When Jonathan took his new job a few years ago, we had to leave St. Louis Park, a lovely suburb where we had a great apartment just blocks from the Uptown neighborhood of Minneapolis. We could walk to Trader Joe’s, Target, the gym—even Lake Calhoun was just a mile away if we took the Greenway. Then we moved here. It’s not walkable. And I don’t feel safe when I’m outside by myself. I never go anywhere.

But then I started reading a book (Worry Less So You Can Live More by Jane Rubiettathat contrasted worry with delight. The author asked the question, “Where have you encountered God’s delight through creation?” The answer was easy. I love walks that give me the chance to think and observe details—everything from picker bushes to perfect leaves to the eight-point bucks that like to hang out in our neighborhood.

I decided to get out and go for one of those walks, to put aside my fears—because really, they’re unfounded—and venture out by myself. Well, I only kinda put aside my fear. I told my husband where I was going and walked with my hand around my phone in my pocket. My bluetooth headset was in my ear, and I was ready to click it twice to call Jonathan if I got in trouble. I even debated whether to wear the hood of my puffy winter jacket up or down because, what if someone snuck up behind me and I couldn’t see them because of it? How far around the lake should I go? Should I stay away from the wooded parts of the trail where I was less visible from the road (but still able to be seen because the trees are bare and my coat is a bright color)?

trail2Then I came across a non-paved path that wound down a gradual hill and disappeared into the weeds along the lake. A path I had never noticed before. Spurred on by the idea of delight, my curiosity got the best of my anxiety. You only live once, right? What if I could meet God at the end of that trail, wherever it led? But should I text Jonathan to tell him exactly where I was? What if I unknowingly ventured out on to the ice? What if I fell through? I’m not a yeller. No one would hear me. Should I just turn around and go home?

I didn’t, because I was determined to do something scary, to take a risk, to ask God to use the experience to chip away at the wall of fear I’d put up between us.

You know what? I didn’t get attacked from behind. I didn’t get kidnapped or raped. I didn’t fall through the ice. (I did get the poop scared out of me by a fairly large bird that flew right in front of me, however. Not actual poop, since I know some of you are wondering. Geez.) You know what else? I told God I was afraid, and He told me it was okay. I didn’t have any grand epiphanies or see any awe-inspiring views, but I started to see my fear melt away as I took a risk and took God at His word. He’s always with me and I don’t have to be afraid.

lakePerhaps it seems silly to you that I was so afraid to go for a walk by myself. I wasn’t terrified, I wasn’t shaking, I wasn’t convinced I was going to die. But I did ask a whole lot of “what-ifs” as I jumped to the worst possible conclusions and imagined the scariest scenarios. This is just a small glimpse of what it’s like to live with anxiety. This wasn’t even the crippling kind. But I’m hoping I can keep having experiences like this that expose my fears and allow God to chip away at them with His love and kindness and care for me. I don’t want to spend my whole life surrounded by “protective” walls of fear that don’t let me see or experience the world around me. What kind of life would that be?

Actually, I know what kind of life that would be because I’ve been living there. It’s a pretty lonely, boring one. I want more than that for myself.

(Check back in a few days for a full review of Jane Rubietta’s book, Worry Less So You Can Live More.)

Living a Portfolio Life

Calling GoinsI’ve spent the last four years (at least) trying to figure out what I’m supposed to be doing with my life. I’ve been working at the church, but that didn’t seem like enough, even though I knew I was supposed to be there. And I made it to the last round of interviews for my dream job and then didn’t get it. I just couldn’t figure out what I was missing.

Until I read The Art of Work by Jeff Goins. In it, Jeff talks about the significance of calling and explains that it goes way beyond your day job. Your calling is the sum of many things—your skills, your job, your relationships, your interests—it’s the whole picture of your life, how you choose to spend your time and use your gifts.

I realized that I don’t have to spend my days agonizing over the ominous and evasive calling God has placed on my life because I’m living it right now.

My calling is to work at my church, to be a good wife and friend and sister, to spend my free time writing and reading and editing and blogging (and crocheting and sewing). My calling is to embrace where God has placed me, do what He has asked me to do, and give Him the glory no matter what.

And I think I’m okay with that.

Are you trying to wrap your mind around the idea of your calling? Check out Jeff’s book. It’ll get you asking the questions you need to ask to figure out what you’re meant to do. Visit this link to find out how to get a free copy and a ton of bonuses—you just pay shipping.

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*As a member of Jeff’s launch team for The Art of Work, I received a free copy of the book in exchange for spreading the word. 

What the Bible Doesn’t Say

uploads-14115120538776712c565-a699942aI was talking to some friends about healing when the subject of Paul’s thorn in the flesh came up. (Read what the Bible has to say about it.)

“I like to think it was panic attacks,” I said.

Another girl piped up across the room: “Or an eating disorder.”

We all laughed as we identified with Paul in that moment, but it was a serious conversation. We all have things we struggle with—sins and issues that come up time and time again, even after we’ve given them to God, sometimes repeatedly.

It’s not uncommon for people to debate Paul’s thorn and guess at what it was. More than once, I’ve discussed it with people who have expressed frustration that Scripture isn’t more explicit, telling us exactly what it was and why he wrestled with it.

But I think that was on purpose. If we knew what that thorn was, it would be harder for us to relate, to put ourselves in Paul’s place and wrestle with it the way he did, to be encouraged by the words, “My grace is sufficient for you” even when our prayers are answered with a miraculous healing or our own personal thorns.

So take heart. Be encouraged by what the Bible doesn’t say about Paul’s suffering and use his story to find meaning and purpose in your own difficult times.

And just like God doesn’t explain Paul’s thorn, he often does offer us explanations either. But through Paul, we learn there’s greater purpose for our suffering, something much bigger than our own pain. Our suffering unites us with Christ. After all, God didn’t take the cup from him, either.

Breaking the Chains by Shari Howerton

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Click on the picture to view this book on Amazon.

If you’re frustrated over the state of your church and maybe even mad at the leadership, read this book. It’ll either give you the perspective you need to remember that churches are imperfect because they’re made of imperfect people, or it will confirm that your church needs help.

I read Breaking the Chains after the author, Shari Howerton, approached me to ask if I’d review her self-published memoir of spiritual abuse and growing up as part of a Christian cult.

I’ll be honest, my expectations for self-published books are always low. I blame it on my college education and the fact that self publishing wasn’t really considered respectable when I went to school for writing. And sometimes it still isn’t in many circles. But after having worked with several self-published authors who needed an editor and reflecting on just how hard it is to get your work read, I determined that I want to be an advocate for writers who don’t go the traditional route for whatever reason. Unless that reason is that they’re bad writers. (That’s another post entirely.)

After skimming a few pages of the book, I agreed to review it. The writing wasn’t terrible like I was expecting. And the story seemed to have some cohesion. And the subject was fascinating.

It’s hard to know what to mention in a review like this because I know I tend to be pretty picky about the way things are written. Shari’s writing isn’t bad at all. Toward the beginning I found myself distracted by similar sentence structures and the repetition of the words “I” and “however” at the beginning of most sentences, but my preoccupation soon gave way to interest in the story.

Breaking the Chains doesn’t read like a typical memoir. Shari spends more time getting the facts straight than she does on artful prose, but her testimony is gripping. She recounts what it was like to grow up in a Protestant cult that emphasized perfection and keeping up appearances, and she used many stories to talk about how it affected her as an adult. Her account of what it was like to leave revealed a long, drawn out, and painful process rather than a quick escape.

Shari’s book is full of hope. In the midst of legalism and her confusion about grace, she meets Jesus for real. And He changes everything.

If you’re looking for a powerful testimony about freedom from religiosity or you just want to be challenged in your own ministry (believe me, she raises lots of convicting questions), consider giving Breaking the Chains a chance.

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

2015

kids playing in the snow

One of my grandparents took this picture. I found it when I was sorting through some of their old slides.

I didn’t make any New Year’s resolutions in 2014 because God was teaching me about grace, and that meant not getting caught up in my own brand of legalism. But that grace got twisted and turned into laziness.

I’ve been convicted over and over again about how undisciplined my lifestyle has become. So 2015 is going to be a year of goals rather than rules:

  1. Run an entire 5k. I’m considering a race that takes place Memorial Day weekend.
  2. Write and publish 52 blog posts. One a week feels pretty doable. (One post down!)
  3. Read through the Bible in a year. I’m going to try this plan from YouVersion.

Do you make New Year’s resolutions or set goals each year?

Not My Circus

If you stop by my office, you’ll see a framed copy of this Polish proverb on my wall where I can see it every day:

“Not my circus, not my monkeys.”

I love it for a few reasons. One is that it’s the only Polish proverb I’ve ever heard. And since I’m Polish and proud of it, that’s a big deal.

But the main reason I love it is that it speaks to the heart of one of my greatest strengths, which also happens to be one of my greatest weaknesses–I am a responsible person (responsibility shows up in my Strengthsfinder Top 5) and I tend to be a fixer. Doesn’t matter if it’s my responsibility or my problem to fix. You can bet I’ll try, and I’ll feel pretty crummy when it doesn’t work out the way I think it should.

It’s hard not to take on extra responsibilities, especially at work. It’s not just my job, it’s also my church. And that means a significant personal investment, far beyond what I would devote if I worked somewhere else. I want to do a good job, and I want my church to be a healthy place. As a result, I struggle with wanting to stretch beyond my job description to make everything meet my own personal ideals.

But the church is made up of many people for a reason. We each play an important part, and we don’t all do the same thing. It’s okay for me to let others fulfill their responsibilities, whether I think they’re doing it right or doing it wrong. It’s not my concern how or why they do what they do. And there’s freedom in that.

Romans 12:3–6 says, “For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them.”

A friend once told me that when I find myself taking on responsibilities and even frustrations that aren’t mine, I need to resign. So if you listen carefully outside my cube, you may hear me say “I quit.” It’s not because I’m leaving my position, it’s because I’m choosing to lay down what I shouldn’t have picked up. Because God gave someone else the gifting to do it better than me. It’s not my circus. And those aren’t my monkeys.

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The Giver Gets to Pick the Gift

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Jesus paid it all
All to Him I owe
Sin had left a crimson stain
He washed it white as snow

Oh praise the One who paid my debt
and raised this life up from the dead

As I sang those words on a Sunday morning a few weeks ago, I thought about my almost-four-years of work at the church and the possibility of leaving them behind to take my dream job, the job I had just interviewed for and really wanted. The job I just knew I was going to get.

Your job at the church is a gift, I heard. And this new job, if you get it, that will be a gift, too. You don’t deserve either of them. You haven’t earned them. You’re not entitled to them like you think you are. They are gifts from Me. And as the Giver, I get to pick the gift. I know what you want. I know what you like. I’ll pick the right gift. And even if it’s not what you asked for, you’ll understand why I picked it. Maybe not right away, but you will.

Those words echoed in my head as I went home, as I went on with life, as I waited for the call I had been waiting for for nearly two months—the call that would mean I would finally be getting paid to sit around and read books all day. I’d finally be an editor. A real editor. Not the fake kind that just re-words awkward class descriptions for the church website and has to make sure the date is right on the bulletin. (Okay, so that’s a little dramatic. I know book editors are not the only real editors. And I know what I do at the church is important. I’ve just always wanted to edit books.)

Two months is a really long time to wait for something you’re sure is inevitable. I knew I might not get the job, but everything seemed just right. I interned there. I knew people there. I was encouraged to apply by someone who worked there. I know what they publish because I’ve read little else in the last three years. And the opportunity just dropped in my lap. I didn’t go looking for it. God was going to give me this new job. But in case He didn’t, I told Him, secretly afraid he was using this opportunity as some kind of sinister test, it must be because I’m not supposed to have it. It just made too much sense.

They’d assured me that I’d have an answer by Friday. After weeks and weeks of checking my email every five seconds and jumping every time my phone made some kind of noise and bugging my references to find out if they’d been contacted, the day had arrived. The same Friday our apartment lease expired and we’d have to sign another twelve month lease THAT DAY or pay an extra $80 in rent to go month-to-month so we could move as soon as possible. Since the new job would be a bit of a hike.

The hours crept by with no word. By this point, I’d convinced myself they’d picked someone else. Surely I would have heard by now if I was their choice. Around noon, I called and talked to an assistant. “No, they haven’t made a decision yet,” she told me, “They’ve had a sales conference all week. They’ll probably decide next week.”

So many emotions. I was so done with the waiting. I wanted to move on with my life. So many things were up in the air because of this job. We might have to move. I might have to stop reviewing books on my blog. I might have to give up the extra week of vacation I’ll have earned by the end of this year. I might have to start paying exorbitant rates for my health insurance. I might have to leave the coworkers I love.

Then finally, last Wednesday, my answer came.

No.

Seriously, God? If You knew You were going to tell me no, why couldn’t You do it after the first interview? The sample edit? Or even the Friday when I was supposed to have an answer? Why did You do this to me?

I still don’t know.

They told me I had the skills, but another candidate had more experience, and they encouraged me to try for an entry-level position next time one opens up. If those types of jobs still pay what they paid when I was in college, there’s no way we can afford that kind of pay cut. Not if I want to pay off my student loans and start a family some day.

It feels a little like the time my parents went to Disney World without me. When they asked what I wanted them to bring back for me, I asked for a dress just like Snow White—blue and yellow and red with puffy sleeves. But that’s not what I got. Instead, I got a white dress with neon paint splatters all over it. And flip flops with a rainbow of curly ribbons tied to the top. I’m sure my mom was so excited to give them to me. But I was disappointed. They didn’t match the picture in my head.

Now I know that the Snow White dress was too expensive. And the dress I did get was darling. But back then, I was too little to understand why that mattered, to understand that my parents had more information than I did. All I knew was they didn’t give me what I wanted.

So the dream I had for so long and then gave up and then thought might happen anyway has been taken from me again. This time I wasn’t quite so willing to give it up. This time it hurts like heck. This time it feels a little hopeless. And I feel a little angry.

But the Giver gets to pick the gift.