Tag Archives: Community

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.

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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Where Your Calling Takes Shape

DSCN0326WEBLast week we took a long weekend to visit Fort Wayne for TUFW’s homecoming weekend. We hadn’t been back to campus since my graduation, a year after it was closed by Taylor University’s board for financial reasons.
“There was something sad and a little frightening about the place, because it all seemed so forsaken and long ago.” – From Prince Caspian
 
It felt like going back to Narnia. I had vague memories of the place, but life had moved on, many memories and faces forgotten. Parts of the campus were being used by local organizations, others were in disrepair. When we peeked through the broken, boarded-up windows of Hausser Hall, we were greeted by sagging, water-damaged ceiling tiles and unused furniture. Rooms that once housed hopeful freshman excited about the future sat barren, deserted, and forgotten.
It was all so familiar. And so different.
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“That’s what the life of this place is. It’s not buildings, it’s not fields, it’s not classrooms. The life of this place is the connections people made here with a sense of purpose and passion and calling for how to make a difference in this world.” – Dr. Randall Dodge, Former TUFW Dean of Students
 
I was overwhelmed by the profound legacy left by our school. Not just TUFW, but also Fort Wayne Bible Institute, Fort Wayne Bible College, and Summit Christian College–all schools that used the campus before it became Taylor. It’s unusual, I think, for a school to have that kind of history. So many different schools and students and professors, but God brought us all to the same place and changed our lives, preparing us for what would come next. The legacy of TUFW lives on in us, not the empty buildings that still sit on West Rudisill.
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“Then in the name of Aslan,” said Queen Susan, “if ye will all have it so, let us go on and take the adventure that shall fall to us.” – From The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe
Back in 2009, a reporter from the Journal Gazette quoted me in her article about the closing: “It was really hard, but I have since realized God has a bigger plan for it, and He’s going to spread us out and use us in bigger ways than we thought He was going to . . . I’m kind of excited now for all the options.” That’s exactly what happened. TUFW-ers have been spread out all over the world–from Fort Wayne to Upland (where Taylor’s main campus is), Michigan, Minnesota (yay!), Zambia, Sudan, the Dominican Republic. And that’s just some of the people I know about. It was hard to see at the time, but God had a grander adventure in store for us.

Interrupted by Jen Hatmaker

InterruptedI think I’ve told you before that I’m a rule-follower. I wish it wasn’t true, but I often find myself identifying with the Pharisees when I read the Gospels. Jesus, you ate lunch with a prostitute? You forgave the corrupt tax collector? You let that lady pour expensive perfume all over your feet and then wash them with her hair? Gross. 

I came face to face with my judgmental tendencies once again when I read Interrupted by Jen Hatmaker a few weeks ago. Based on the tagline—“When Jesus wrecks your comfortable Christianity”—I was prepared to be inspired, but I wasn’t expecting to be challenged.

I’m not even sure if Jen addressed judgment and stereotypes specifically, but I sure felt convicted while I was reading. I put the book down, confessed my sin, and asked God to help me see and love all people the way He does.

More than once, Jen wrote about how easy it is to get trapped in a cycle of “blessing the blessed.” Because I work at a church and attend that church and met all my friends at that same church, it’s super easy for me to get stuck in my comfortable little bubble. The Bible talks about giving to the poor, feeding the hungry, and loving the sinners, but outside of donating school supplies for a church event and sponsoring a few Compassion kids, I usually live as if those things don’t apply to me because, well, I don’t know any of those people.

Not sure why it didn’t occur to me before, but it’s my own fault that I don’t know any of those people. And not knowing them isn’t a very good excuse. Sure, I’m an introvert, but that doesn’t meet I can live my whole life never meeting anyone new.

Jonathan and I have talked about serving outside our church walls for quite some time now, but we’ve never actually done it. I think it’s time. I don’t know if we’ll work with the homeless in St. Paul, help out at the food shelf near Jonathan’s office, or visit with the elderly in the memory care facility down the street, but it’s time to burst my bubble and serve someone new.

*Tyndale House provided me with a complimentary copy of Interrupted to blog about.

27 Lessons in 27 Years

globe babyToday I turn 27. Actually, in three minutes from the time I’m writing this. Honestly, I’m feeling old. My sister turns 21 in November, my baby brother is graduating high school next year, and I’ve been married for (almost) five years. This is the first year I’ve actually been grateful when people say, “You’re 27? No way!” And I finally understand why turning 30 is a big deal. I’m not there yet, but I totally get it.

When I was trying to figure out what my “birthday post” should be, I decided it would be fun to share some of the lessons I’ve learned along the way. Some are happy, some are sad, and some are a little funny, but they’ve all been a part of “becoming me” in a significant way.

  1. If someone is trying to annoy you, ignore them. They’ll eventually get bored and go away. (I can thank my little sister for teaching me this one.)
  2. Churches don’t have to be full of hypocrites.
  3. Leadership doesn’t have to be loud. Sometimes quiet leadership is more effective.
  4. God is trustworthy. Always.
  5. It’s okay to ask for help.
  6. Relationships don’t work when each person only gives 50%. Each person must give 100%, so when one person can’t give their all, the other person can pick up the slack.
  7. God cares about the little things, too.
  8. Stories (real or imagined) change lives.
  9. Babies aren’t so scary after all.
  10. Adults don’t have it all figured out. Life is an experiment.
  11. We’re all different, and that’s a good thing.
  12. When you have a favorite thrift store, second-hand shopping is awesome.
  13. Budgets don’t prohibit you from spending money, they give you permission to spend it wisely.
  14. You can learn a lot from other generations. Everyone has something different to offer.
  15. Teaching four-year-olds about Jesus is SO FUN.
  16. Humility often means not seeking credit and taking blame.
  17. Regular dental appointments are important. You do NOT want to get a root canal.
  18. No matter how much you hate exercise, it will make you feel better. (If my husband asks, I did not admit this.)
  19. Divorce sucks. And it will affect your kids—no matter how old or young they are.
  20. Food doesn’t make you happy, it just makes you fat.
  21. You don’t have to have all the answers to be a good friend. Just be there.
  22. (Usually) good writing should go unnoticed. It should flow in such a way that the reader doesn’t even think about the act of reading, they just do it.
  23. What you want to do is not necessarily what you’re called to do.
  24. Working at a church is hard.
  25. There’s no such thing as a normal family.
  26. Minnesota isn’t so bad.
  27. Having a husband who’s your best friend makes life a lot more fun.

So there you have it. Obviously I’ve learned more than 27 things in my lifetime. At least, I hope it’s obvious…

Celebrating Taylor

rula-sibai-pink-flowers-webI didn’t know Taylor, but I knew of her. I knew she was a beloved youth leader in our ministry, and I knew she was impacting lives.

On Monday I went to her funeral. I had heard Christians should attend funerals as a reminder that life is short, and I wanted to celebrate what I had been told was a life well lived.

I sat in the church parking lot for at least ten minutes, watching cars slowly fill the parking lot and people shuffle through the doors in pairs. I went inside and watched as some of the people who are near and dear to my heart grieve for someone who was near and dear to theirs. They hugged their other friends a little tighter, held them a little longer. I was on the outside looking in, learning what it means to life a life of influence as the people who loved Taylor most told her story.

I sat near the back, off to the right, as Taylor’s family and friends shared things I already knew—I had been hearing about her life for the last week as people filed in and out of the church office, talking about what had happened. I watched as, one after another, my pastors brought hope in the midst of their own grief—each had special memories of Taylor. They talked about her faithfulness, her joy, her meekness, and her impact.

Through them, Taylor’s life, though it ended when she was only 23, told a beautiful story much bigger than her own. A story of the hope she found in Jesus. It was evident in every memory shared, every tear shed.

One of the pastors said “her life was to glorify God,” and he quoted John 12:23–24—“The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified . . . unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” I had been thinking about that all week. It was difficult to lose Taylor, especially for those who knew her best, yet God was getting so much glory. Despite the sadness of her passing, hundreds of people were hearing about her faith in Jesus.

I’m left wondering about my own life and praying that, when God calls me home, my life tells that same story—the story of a God who loves despite failures, who forgives despite unrepentance, who saves despite death.

For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord. Romans 6:23

If you don’t have a relationship with Jesus, I have one question—why? What’s stopping you from living for Him?

Click here to learn more about the hope and purpose that comes from following Jesus. And if you have questions, I’ll do my best to answer them. Email me at editionally (at) gmail (dot) com.

Thankfulness?

Thanksgiving

This morning I heard that in five years, most stores will be open on Thanksgiving. I remember feeling sick to my stomach when stores started doing that last year. And not just because of the people who wouldn’t be able to spend what is perhaps the most family-focused holiday with their families (perhaps because it has nothing to do with getting stuff?). It’s the irony of it that makes me sick—a day intended for showing thankfulness has been turned into a day of greed.

One article I read quoted a Best Buy representative, who basically said they’re just giving customers what they obviously want. I would guess it has less to do with people wanting to shop on Thanksgiving and more to do with people wanting (and in some cases, needing) to save as much money as possible. So if the stores offer their best deals on Thanksgiving, that’s when they’ll to shop.

I recognize my thinking on that point may be a little naive—that want-to-save could easily be construed as greed in many situations. And there are people out there who would much rather be shopping on Thanksgiving than spending time with their families. (I can sympathize—it can be torture to spend holidays with a royally messed up family. Like Christmas the year my parents separated—we all got together on Christmas morning like nothing had changed, but it had. It may be one of the most awkward things I’ve ever experienced. And this year we’re going all the way to Michigan to see my family, but I don’t even know if we’re going to have a Thanksgiving dinner!) But that doesn’t change that Thanksgiving is meant to be a day to show thanks.

Abraham Lincoln made Thanksgiving an official holiday in 1863. Here’s part of his official declaration:

I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.

Part of me wonders if that’s the problem in our country. We’ve removed God from everything else—why not remove Him from Thanksgiving, too, even if it is a day set aside to offer “Thanksgiving and Praise to ourbeneficient Father.”To add to the irony, Lincoln also said,

I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for each singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners, or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility, and Union.

 So I won’t be shopping this Thanskgiving. Instead, I intend to spend the day thanking God for His many blessings, asking Him for forgiveness (for myself and my country), and begging Him to align America with His plan—‘cause I’m pretty sure buying more stuff (that will likely be broken in six months) instead of Thanking Him for what He’s already provided is not part of His plan.

Unknown No More (Kinda)

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Awhile ago, I posted about some big changes that could be coming for me and Jonathan. Well, they came, and today I can finally tell you about them.

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downtown

Tomorrow morning, Jonathan starts a new job as the managing editor of a newspaper on the east side of the Twin Cities. (He’s still working for the same company, just a different paper and a different office.) And this Sunday, we’re making what feels like an awfully big move to be closer to his new office. (It’s not really that big—I’m keeping my job and we’re not changing churches, but the new place is at least half an hour from where we are now, and we don’t know the area at all.)

River

This has been a long time coming, and we’re excited (and a bit stressed) that it’s finally here. It’ll be a great opportunity for Jonathan and a bit of a “culture shock” for both of us. We really love our current location, and quite honestly, I’m really struggling with the move. Our new place is gorgeous, but it’s in a much more “rural” setting than where we are now. Being minutes from Uptown really has its perks, and I’m going to miss being able to get just about anywhere in two minutes.

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But all whining and worries aside, we’re both confident that God has been guiding us every step of the way, and we can’t wait to see what happens next. I’m excited about getting to know Jonathan’s new community and living in a more “rural” area.

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These pictures are from when we visited Jonathan’s new coverage area in August. Pictures of our new apartment will come after we get settled in. In the meantime, say a prayer for us. We’re having a few difficulties with the company that manages our current apartment and aren’t quite sure of the best way to handle it.

So if you don’t hear from me for awhile, it’s because I’m getting settled :)

Hope and a Future

The beginning of the school year makes me sentimental.

But who am I kidding?—I’m always sentimental.

This week I’ve been thinking a lot about my freshman year at Taylor and how different my life looked when I started college. I’ve been reminded how awesome God is.

Jeremiah 29:11 says, “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ says the Lord, ‘Plans to prosper and not to harm you. Plans to give you hope and a future.’” It’s a verse I quoted over and over to myself as I faced my first year at college with utter terror. (You think I’m exaggerating? I cried almost every day of my senior year of high school just because I knew I’d be leaving home on my own—three hours a way from my family and no friends to hide behind.) As many times as I quoted it though, I didn’t understand the depth of its meaning until now, as I look back at how my life has changed and how God has used each step to teach me and further His kingdom.

My college roommate, Dana, has become a life-long friend who understands me better than almost anyone. God used her to push me out of my comfort zone and show me what a Christian friendship looks like.

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I met Jonathan and spent six months waiting for him to ask me out. And then I spent 14 months praying God would let me marry him. We just celebrated our fourth anniversary.

Sarah&Jonathan Edit

I left my beloved home state of Michigan and moved to what one of my friends from home calls, “The Great White North.” It’s not the same, but I really have come to love Minnesota.

I learned what it’s like to be part of a committed, Christ-following community. My days at Taylor were filled with professors, students, and even cafeteria workers who loved Jesus. And now our church (also where I work) has brought us the same gift here in Minnesota. What a blessing to be surrounding by such a faithful, positive, and supportive group of people.

Hewitt Wedding

I discovered a passion for editing and had the opportunity to intern at a major Christian publishing house. What a learning experience! And now I often use my skills to help friends and friends of friends edit the books they’ve written to further the gospel and share hope with the world. Not the way I planned to do things, but it’s been so rewarding.

Either He's God or He's Not

My parents divorced after nearly 27 years of marriage. Not gonna lie—this has been the most difficult thing I’ve ever faced. It caused me to question every aspect of my life and rethink all of my childhood memories. And it’s wreaked havoc on my entire family. But God has taught me a lot about what’s important in life, and I’ve seen my family come to rely on Him in ways they never have before—a blessing amid the ashes.

Now, as Jonathan and I face an unknown future yet again, I’m excited about the challenges it will bring and the ways God will grow us. I can’t share details now, but we might have some big changes coming up before the year ends, and I know they’ll stretch us in new ways. (For the record—we’re not pregnant!)

I can look back on what God has already done in my life and quote Jeremiah 29:11 with so much more confidence: “‘For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord, “Plans to prosper and not to harm you. Plans to give you hope and a future.’”