The Call to Be Weird

I stood in a hotel ballroom surrounded by many friends and acquaintances. There were some I knew well – and some whose faces were only vaguely familiar – but I felt so much solidarity with each person.

We all shared a common purpose of going. We had counted the cost – and chosen to leave behind family, friends and the comfort of home to serve the Lord in foreign lands.

The song began. It was the first time I had ever heard it. As we reached the refrain which we (in good Hillsong fashion) sang over and over again, our voices got louder, hands reached to the air:

“Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders. Let me walk upon the waters wherever you would call me. Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander and my faith will be made stronger in the presence of my savior.”

I was so certain in that moment the Lord was calling me to something BIGGER. Maybe I’d go to the Middle East or North Africa. Maybe I’d never return “home” to a land where life didn’t contain the same kind of daily struggles. Surely I was called to do something really significant. Something really hard.

Yet the call was much different than I expected.

Over the years there had been so many times when I’d heard a whisper:

“I know you’re willing to go – but are you willing to stay?”

I longed to travel to foreign lands, to preach the Gospel to people who had never heard – and yet a growing burden was placed on my heart.

What about the person next door? What about my homeland that was already being counted out in missiology books as post-Christian and beyond saving?

The call was to come home.

Over the years, I’ve struggled with that call. Part of the struggle was the lack of seeming significance. As I talked about last week, it’s so easy to find my value in labels – in the things I do. But I think there’s another aspect I often want to ignore.

I’ve also realized that while in some ways, it’s so much harder living life on the other side of the world, in some ways it’s easier to live out my faith. If I’m called to be part of a “peculiar” people (as the KJV renders I Pet 2:9), it’s not so strange or awkward to do in a land where I was already strange everywhere I went. But it’s harder to desire that title in my own land. It’s harder to live with intentionality that can seem counter-cultural in my own culture. I don’t really want everyone to think I’m weird. (Even if I know I’m pretty weird!)

So often I want the call to be something grand and exciting, but if I’m honest that’s often more about me than about the glory of God. But the most grand and exciting thing each of us can do each day is to be faithful in the ordinary- and to be willing to be peculiar – strange, unusual, even weird – by following the peculiar and strange teachings of the one who has called us.

We might feel strange as we go to work and realize we have different values than our coworkers – but we are called to live those values anyway. We might feel strange in the ways we spend our time – especially when it means rejecting the hustle and bustle of what’s considered ‘normal.’ And perhaps most challenging, we might even feel strange in our churches. There are times our cultural values have become so entwined with Christianity that the truth is obscured – so even the friends who should be encouraging and applauding us in our weirdness are judging us for it.

The “normalcy” of the world around us can so easily entangle us and cause us to stumble and fall. It tells us we don’t want to be weird. It’s so much easier to be normal. We just need to blend in with everyone else. But we are called to hear and obey God’s words. Peter tells us:  But you are not like that, for you are a chosen people. You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession. As a result, you can show others the goodness of God, for he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light.” (I Pet. 2:9)

How is God calling you and me to be weird today – and will we choose to embrace it?

The Joy Snatcher

Nearly four years, I was fresh off the plane back from China after living abroad for 2.5 years.  I learned quickly that reverse culture shock is real. Outwardly, I was moody and judgmental of my home culture. Inwardly, I was having an identity crisis. Living abroad was a very meaningful identity – but I wasn’t doing that anymore. I was getting ready to turn 30. While I had done some pretty amazing things, I hadn’t checked any of the “primary” boxes I thought I would achieve at this point in life.

I was very single. There was not a prospect in sight – and my experiences with online dating though comical, often left me feeling even more depressed (stories for another day). I was back living with my parents because I was jobless – and uncertain where or what I even wanted to end up doing. Daily I searched job postings – waiting for the one that made it clear why the Lord had called me home.

In the midst of it all, I went to an event at my niece and nephew’s school. When I spotted a classmate from middle school, I felt embarrassed. Here I was single, childless, and jobless. I contemplated how I might avoid her – but alas, there was no such luck.

She spotted me and came over to greet me. She was (as far as I could tell) happily married with a couple of adorable children. She asked the dreaded question of what I’d been up to.

My dad, who was standing nearby, quickly launched into an account of my adventures. I’d recently returned from traveling around Vietnam after teaching in China. His fatherly pride shone through. I don’t remember all the rest of the conversation – I may have sheepishly mentioned my job search. But what I do remember was the look on her face. It was almost like jealousy – and she said something about how she wished she could do what I was doing.

I felt like a bucket of water had been thrown on me – because I realized at that moment that this other person whose life looked so much more like what I thought mine would look like thought my life was desirable. I realized she and I likely shared the same human condition that goes back to the very beginning. Wanting what we don’t have. Being discontent with what we do have. Not stopping to appreciate the moment we’re in.

I’ve often thought of Teddy Roosevelt’s saying, “Comparison is the thief of joy” over the years – and it keeps on coming to my mind as of late. I wonder why time and time again I’m sucked into the cycle of comparing myself to others instead of rejoicing with them in their accomplishments or mourning with them in their pain.

And I remember the words of the Apostle Paul (so often misinterpreted):

“…for I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength. – Philippians 4:11b-13

Paul isn’t saying he’s learned the secret to winning football games, passing an exam you haven’t studied for, or getting your dream job. Rather, Paul is telling us that he’s learned the secret to be content when he has everything he wants or when nothing is going according to plan (ie. he’s in prison or shipwrecked) – and that is the realization is that we aren’t working on our own strength. That God’s plan is much bigger than we can comprehend.

Now each time I begin to compare myself to others (which is still all too often!), I go back to that moment – and I go back to the words of Scripture. I’m reminded that my identity isn’t rooted in my job, my relationship status or my fun travel stories. My identity is rooted in who I am as a child of God – and that alone is enough. God’s work or timing may be different than my human plans – but that doesn’t mean I should allow discontentment, comparison and bitterness into my heart.

My prayer is that each man or woman who is reading this will realize that God is working in and through them right at this moment. Even if you haven’t accomplished what that one friend has at her job. Even if your kids aren’t behaved like that other friend’s kids.  Even if your relationship (or lack thereof) is nothing like those other friends. Even if life seems completely and utterly unfair.  I hope that we can learn the secret to being content at any moment –that God is at work during the good and the bad times. That means we can mourn with others, we can celebrate with others, recognizing that God is using each experience to bring about his plan and his glory – and to bring about our ultimate good.

Chiefs Kingdom and a Better Kingdom

Just in case you somehow missed it – something pretty exciting happened last weekend. The Kansas City Chiefs won the Super Bowl. Fifty years since their last appearance (yes, 50 years!), the team whose may (or may not have) coined the term Super Bowl took home the trophy for only the second time ever.

Having grown up in Kansas City, I wasn’t sure I’d ever see this moment.  In the weeks leading up the big game and in the week following, the whole city was buzzing. Random people were discussing the Chiefs in line at the grocery store. People who still weren’t sure what a 2-point conversion is were die-hard fans. Every store in Kansas City seemed to be selling Chiefs apparel, not to mention the stands on street corners. I admit I may have teared up once or twice during the inspirational commercials on the radio.

The shirts that particularly caught my attention were being sold at my neighborhood Hy-Vee. Like half of the city, I too was on the hunt (no pun intended) for a new Chiefs shirt the week of the Super Bowl. After perusing the picked-over selection at Target, I stopped by Hy-Vee to see tables full of shirts – emblazoned across the front was the phrase “thy kingdom cometh.” While I am a big fan of my hometown team, I couldn’t quite get past the sacrilege – and made a third stop at Walmart.

But the more I thought about the shirt – or perhaps the overall concept – I couldn’t get it out of my mind. An entire city was abuzz with excitement after the seemingly unthinkable happened. There is nothing wrong with that. Yet I kept thinking I’m not sure I’ve ever seen that level of excitement when the words of the Lord’s Prayer, “thy kingdom come” are said. I don’t see that degree of coming together when we talk about belonging to a different kingdom.

Yet for followers of Jesus, that kingdom should be so much more meaningful than any football kingdom. The kingdom that Jesus ushered in is far more exciting than any kingdom of this earth. It’s far more powerful than any political win. It’s far more miraculous than a come-from-behind fourth quarter victory.

The kingdom that Jesus invites us to be a part of is one where our political clout isn’t important. It’s not based on the money we have. It’s not based on our physical fitness or sports ability. He invites us to be part of a kingdom where the humble are exalted. Where the despised and rejected can find hope. A kingdom where broken people can find grace, forgiveness and healing.

As I felt the spirit of unity with my fellow Kansas Citians, I thought about the divided world around us. While I don’t think this divisiveness is something new (our country has fought a Civil War), our current news cycle/social media/etc. makes it harder to escape. In the midst of this, there was a respite – a reminder that we can come together.

And I wondered how many of us are a part of the same kingdom – yet we are allowing lesser kingdoms to divide us. We are being divided by so many kingdoms. Kingdoms of politics, race, class, and status (to name just a few!). Yet if the kingdom of a sports team can bring us together – how much more so should the kingdom of God bring us together?

Jesus. Jesus. Jesus.

There is something about that name.

Master. Savior. Jesus.

Like the Fragrance after the rain.

Jesus. Jesus. Jesus. Let all heaven and earth proclaim.

Kings and kingdoms will all pass away.

But there is something about that name

(William J. Gaither and Gloria Gaither)

January Reading Roundup

As I shared a few weeks back, I’ve set what might be an overly ambitious goal to read/listen to 100 books in 2020. I’m already learning so much. I truly do believe that reading opens our eyes to see the world in new and different ways.

Total January Tally:

12 Completed Books (I did finish one the morning of Feb. 1 that I’m counting!)

4 Audiobooks

8 Books (and I actually read all 8 as ebooks)

Favorite Fiction Read: The Stationery Shop by Marjan Kamali

Favorite Non-Fiction Read: The Dream of You by Jo Saxton

I wrote about the first seven books previously, here’s a wrap on the last five.

The Solicitor’s Son by Rachael Anderson

One-sentence summary: The third book in a Regency series, this follows the reunion of a young woman Sophia with her childhood friend and love who is of a different social station.

What I found compelling: I had met Sophia in the first two books and it was fun to see the growth and change in her character.

What I found less compelling: As seems to happen often in series, the book quality seems to diminish as the books come out. I’ve found in many of those regency series where I’ve enjoyed the authors debut books (they always are recommended to me on Kindle – and often for free!) that the latter ones aren’t as good. I think they may be rushing to produce more content. There was little in the book that wasn’t completely predictable – which made me almost just give up on it and skip to the end – although there was a small section about 2/3 through where I felt like the book was at its strongest.

Rating: 3/3.5

Jane Austen at Home by Lucy Worsley (audiobook)

One-sentence summary: A biography of Jane Austen’s life that highlights the homes she lives in along the way.

What I found compelling: Although I’m a big Jane Austen fan, I have actually never really delved deeply into her life, so I learned a lot. I also appreciated that the author did not make outlandish claims or draw clear conclusions for parts of Jane’s life that will likely always remain a mystery.

What I found less compelling: I’ve listened to some really well-done, compelling biographies – and this one did not capture my attention in the same way. All of the names got confusing (and some other biographies I’ve read/listened to did a better job at reintroducing long ago, once-mentioned characters). I almost gave up on the book part way – but persevered until the end!

Rating: 3.5

The Stationery Shop by Marjan Kamali (January book club read for Modern Mrs. Darcy Book Club)

One sentence summary: A weaving together of past and present to tell the story of Roya who begins as an idealistic teen in Tehran in the 1950s.

What I found compelling: Books with flashbacks and various points of view can be tricky, but I thought Kamali did a great job weaving the story together. The book came alive in so many ways. I could almost feel the tension in the streets. Even characters I didn’t like, I felt some sympathy toward. I was Googling recipes for Iranian food.

What I found less compelling: There were some moments in the book that could have been fleshed out more – that being said the pacing was very good. I never felt like the book dragged – so not a real problem.

Rating: 5 – If you are looking for a great fiction read, go find this book!

The Dream of You: Letting Go of Broken Identities and Live the Life You Were Made for by Jo Saxton (audiobook)

One sentence summary: Jo Saxton weaves her life story and biblical passages to teach women to find their identity in Christ.

What I found compelling: In many ways, Jo Saxton and I are nothing alike. Yet in some ways, I felt like we could be the same person. She is able to speak to the underlying issues and cut to the heart in a way that really speaks to me. I also really enjoy listening to her speak – so the audiobook was a great choice. I could say many more good things!

What I found less compelling: The book started off a little slow – but for me it improved as it went on and stayed solid to the end (somewhat unusual in the Christian living genre).

Rating: 5 –I’d highly recommend this book for women – such important reminders!

Know My Name: A Memoir by Chanel Miller

One sentence summary: Chanel Miller, the young woman who came known to the world as Emily Doe during the Brock Turner assault case, reclaims her identity and challenges the way our culture thinks about sexual assault.

What I found compelling: Chanel makes a number of great points as she shares her story. There were times her writing was truly beautiful and she really made me think. She has an important story to share.

What I found less compelling: I’d heard and seen many accolades about this book and I do think Chanel had an important story to tell, but I really struggled to get through it. It just felt way too long and repetitive. I think it could have been a much stronger book with about 100 less pages – but apparently I’m in the minority on this opinion.

Rating: 3/3.5

*I will likely write about this book and Rachel Denhollander’s What Is a Girl Worth? again because I have so many thoughts as I read these two books back to back.

That’s a wrap for January reading – we’ll see what February has in store!

Just a quick reading note if you’re looking for ways to incorporate more reading into your life: I love the Libby app. I know there are other library reading apps as well that are likely just as good – but Libby works with several of my local libraries. My ebooks generally go directly to my Kindle app on my phone and audiobooks download in the app. My only problem is getting too many books at once – but at least I don’t have to worry about fines for late returns!

Kobe Bryant & Imperfect Heroes

Not too long ago, I went down an internet rabbit hole. I noticed that Kobe Bryant was trending and I wondered what had happened. A few clicks later, I learned that he had posted a picture caption on Instagram which some perceived to shame a member of the girls basketball team he coached for her lack of dedication. Kobe made clarifying statements, but as what happens in today’s culture of outrage, the fires were already stoked. The memes were multiplying. His caption, which he explained had been about the girl’s growth, had taken a dark twist and he was the object of the Internet’s wrath.

This week Kobe Bryant’s name is trending for a far different reason. It’s not famed Internet fury accompanying it- rather shock & despair. The world was stunned by his sudden death alongside his daughter Gianna and seven others in a helicopter crash. People lamented a life lost too soon. They remembered Kobe’s accomplishments as a basketball player, father, friend and community leader.

As I think of it now, my heart hurts. A wife who has lost her husband. A mother who has lost her daughter. Little girls without a sister or father.
Celebrities, athletes, politicians, and ordinary people have all come out in droves to share their sympathy and about Kobe’s impact on their lives.

And yet in the midst of that there are some disgruntled whispers – “you know Kobe was accused of rape, right? is it okay to celebrate him? Is it okay to mourn him? He may have done something really bad.”

A Washington Post reporter was suspended after she tweeted old articles about the rape case. I’m not arguing whether it was right or wrong for her to post the articles or whether or not her suspension was warranted. But what I do know is people are very uncomfortable with imperfect narratives so we try to automatically dismiss them. We want to either demonize or deify – yet, on this side of eternity, we will always live in the awkward middle.

Our heroes are flawed. In one of my favorite books, Josh Riebock wrestles with the two very different men his dad was. He was one person when under the influence of alcohol and someone completely different at other times. At last he comes to a realization:

For the first time in my life, my dad isn’t a hero or a monster to me. He’s something in between; he’s just a man.”

Josh Riebock, Heroes and Monsters

We know all too well from the pages of Scripture that the world is full of imperfect people. Of people who are broken and who made huge mistakes – yet are still used for good. Perhaps there is no clearer example than that of King David – a man who abused his power to take advantage of a woman, who killed and lied. We shouldn’t gloss over and ignore those glaring imperfections. Rather we recognize that those imperfections are what make David human – and the fact the he was used in spite of those imperfections is what makes God far greater than our human understanding.

So can we celebrate Kobe Bryant? Can we mention his shortcomings? I think the answer to both of these questions is yes. We can recognize that Kobe Bryant accomplished great things. He loved his family. He touched countless lives. But I think it’s also okay (and perhaps even freeing) to acknowledge the Kobe isn’t perfect. We may never know the whole story. We don’t diminish the pain of people he hurt. But what we also know that Kobe reminds us that imperfect people can be used in big ways.

So next time, we’re tempted to join either the Internet firestorm of defense or attack I hope we’ll remember that we’re all ultimately, like Kobe, just people, so we mourn, we celebrate and we daily acknowledge we will never be the one perfect person who walked the earth, but we can learn about Him from the many imperfect people on this journey with us.

Scared of Everything

“I think you’re scared of everything.”

His words had barely escaped his mouth before I started refuting them. I began to cite all of the scary things I’d done. I had gone to China at barely 18 knowing no one. I had moved across country another summer to take an internship in a city where once again I hadn’t known anyone. I’d spoken in front of large groups of people. I had done lots of scary things!

He slowly began to back peddle – maybe he’d made too quick of an assessment. Maybe he was wrong.

But then something switched – as I continue to furiously babble my defense – his gaze narrowed – he almost seemed to look through me – and he said – “no, I think I was right the first time, you are scared of everything.”

I can’t remember what I had said to warrant the switch back. But I suddenly felt powerless to defend myself. I was defeated – because what I was scared of most at the moment was that maybe – just maybe – what he said was true.

His very words terrified me. Maybe this sometimes odd, yet often oddly insightful seminary classmate could really see into my soul – and maybe deep down I was scared – more scared than I even realized. And if he could see that – who else could?

It’s been at least 10 years since that conversation. It’s doubtful that the man I was speaking to even remembers it – yet it’s come to my mind a number of times over the years. In moments where I’m paralyzed with fear that keeps me from moving, I hear his words.

But at some point I realized something – it’s okay if I’m scared. The problem isn’t being scared – the problem is letting fear immobilize me. The problem is letting fear have the last or loudest word. The problem is letting the fear define me – or letting the fear of being afraid define me.

If I were having that conversation today I’d like to think it would be different. Perhaps instead of a rapid defense, I’d say – you may be right. I might be scared of a lot of things. But I can say each day I learn a little bit more that fear does not have to control me.

I’ve realized more and more there aren’t two kinds of people – the fearful and the fearless. Rather, there are those who let fear rule them and those who daily choose to give their fears to the One who promises to help us overcome them.

This year I’ve decided to step out in faith and to begin to embrace one of my passions and also one of my fears – writing.  Every time I think about commiting myself to writing more, I automatically come up with lots of excuses. What if no one reads it? What if it’s a waste of time? What if I say something and it’s interpreted wrong? But I realized that perhaps I’m missing the real question – what if I’m using excuses to ignore a call God has on my heart?

I hope that you will join me on this journey. It might not be a journey of writing. But a journey of embracing the things that scare you – and taking big or small steps each day to tell fear that it doesn’t have the last word.

What is something you’re afraid of that you want to embrace this year?

A Year of Reading & Writing

IMG_0859As 2019 ended and 2020 begin, my Facebook feed begin to fill with lists of books. Friends wrote of books that had impacted their lives the previous year. They wrote of the number of pages they read, of the truths they’d learned.

I’ve been a lifelong reader. I’ve said a number of times that books are my love language – yet in recent years sometimes I feel like I talk more about the books I’m going to read than actually reading books. So I decided that this year would be a year I recommit to reading (not that I haven’t been reading – but that I would be more intentional in doing so). I also want 2020 to be year that I commit to writing – and I know reading good books is an important part of writing.

Perhaps I’m a little overzealous in my goal setting, but I tried to come up with a reasonable number of books that I’d read in 2020 and the number that came to my mind was 100! I might be crazy, but having discovered the joy of audiobooks in the past couple of years (which I am counting as reading even if some may disagree), I feel like this is feasible. I can easily listen to at least one audiobook a week (I tend to listen them at between 1.5 and 2 x speed) which leaves about another book to read a week. We’ll see how it goes!

But as I’m trying to journal as I read I’m going to write short reviews/commentaries on books as I go. So here it begins. My first 7 books of 2020:

(Note: all ratings are out of 5 stars)

Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance (audiobook)

One sentence summary: JD Vance shares his story of growing up as part of a “hillbilly” family – and how he overcame in spite of many obstacles (and risk factors) in his way.

What was most compelling: I feel almost a complicated relationship with this book, but one thing I can say is that I’m still thinking about a book more than a week after finishing it in regardless of whether or not I agree with everything in it, it certainly has an impact. JD Vance is close to the same age as me – and I think that’s why in part it was so shocking, unnerving (I don’t even know what word to use to describe it) to hear how someone who in many ways outwardly would look the same as me could have such a vastly different background. Yes, people might disagree with Vance’s conclusions. They might feel like he didn’t present enough conclusions (which I would disagree with – because at 32 years old I would guess he doesn’t know what the solution is) or they may think he overgeneralized his experience on to too many people – but regardless of all these things – I think his story is an important one. For me, it’s important as I’ve had many conversations of what makes a difference in kids’ lives – and a constant, trustworthy adult is often at the top of the list.

What I found less compelling: As I said above, sometimes I felt like there were too many generalizations made. I have spoken to others who have similar stories – but I think it can be dangerous to make the assumption that one story is normative for a whole culture.

Rating/recommendation: 4.5. I would definitely recommend this book. I think it’s important for people to get a broader perspective – and to realize the vastly different backgrounds that exist in the US. (Audiobook note: JD narrates the book. I wouldn’t say he has the most compelling reading voice, but it does help show his emotions in various situations to hear it from his own voice.)

I Will Always Write Back: How One Letter Changed Two Lives by Caitlin Alifirenka & Martin Ganda

One sentence summary: Caitlin (American) and Martin (Zimbabwean) become pen pals in 7th grade – and it leads to a friendship that changes both of their lives forever.

What was most compelling: This was a quick, inspirational read, written at the young adult level. I found the pacing good and it held my interest well. It’s a good reminder of how friendship can change the world – and to look beyond ourselves to the world around us.

What I found less compelling: There were times I struggled with the extreme naiveté of Caitlin – and how she didn’t work to change it. I also got tired of her stories of middle school/high school life – but I know it was in part to serve as a foil to Martin’s story – and it is written for a younger audience.  Also the book didn’t dive into deep solutions beyond the simplistic, but that is also expected for a book at this level. (Martin appears to do work addressing financial crisis at a much deeper level now.)

Rating/Recommendation: 3.5/4. I would recommend this book for someone looking for a quick, inspirational read. I’d also recommend it for middle/high school and perhaps even young adult to help them see a broader perspective of the world.

The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhhig (audiobook)

One sentence summary: Journalist Charles Duhhig examines the science of habits through various stories and research.

What I found compelling: I loved this book. I found stories super interesting and I actually kept on wanting to come back to it – something that I found unusual for this kind of book. Days later I’ve been contemplating how I personally form habits – as well as the habits of institutions around me. I really enjoyed the stories – and the way they were broken up made me keep reading.

What I found less compelling: My husband didn’t love this book as much as me and felt that the author could have overstated conclusions or stories. I would say I did question him a little on his Rosa Parks story – because for those who have studied the event, it’s fairly known that the event was somewhat planned – which wasn’t how he framed it.

Rating/Recommendation: 4.5/5. As I said, I really enjoyed the book and think many people could learn from it and apply the principles in their personal and professional lives. (Audiobook note: I really enjoyed the reading Mike Chamberlain. I actually liked him so much, I searched for other books he read).

Death by Chocolate by Sally Berneathy

*note I chose this book as a book by a local author as part of the Modern Mrs Darcy Challenge.

One sentence summary: Mystery surrounds a woman who eats copious amounts of chocolate and owns a chocolate shop.

What I found compelling: In the midst of reading two books about sexual assault, this book was a light, fluffy escape. Although it featured divorce, adultery and domestic abuse – I would still classify it as chick-lit mystery. It was a quick read and fairly enjoyable – it reminded me of a Hallmark Channel Mystery (aka a cozy mystery). The local aspect was kind of fun – as I knew when certain areas were referenced where she was talking about.

What I found less compelling: There wasn’t much character development in the book and it was quite predictable. I hardly even knew what the characters looked like. I was confused by the lack of technology (cell phones, etc.) when the book appears to have been published in more recent years – but perhaps it was written much earlier.

Rating/recommendation: 3. If you are looking for a light, quick read (and I think also free on Amazon), then I would recommend it. It’s not great literature – but it was sort of fun – because I do also really like chocolate. I would consider reading more books in the series – especially when decompressing from a serious read, like the next one on the list.

What Is a Girl Worth?: My Story of Breaking the Silence and Exposing the Truth about Larry Nassar and USA Gymnastics by Rachel Denhollander

One sentence summary: Rachel Denhollander shares her life story interwoven with the story of her abuse by Larry Nassar and ultimately her leading the way in his conviction.

What I found compelling: I enjoyed Rachel’s writing. I felt like the book moved at a good pace – while including good details about her life. I felt like Rachel came across as a very real person – who struggled with grief, forgiveness, etc. I appreciated her insights about abuse in the church as well.

What I found less compelling: I would have loved for Rachel to have dug more deeply into the harmful theology that can lead to church’s cover up of sexual abuse.

Rating Recommendation: 4.5/5. I would definitely recommend this book to men & women, especially those within the church. Her story is very important as we think about how we respond to sex abuse both inside and outside of the church.

Gay Girl, Good Good: The Story of Who I Was and Who God Has Always Been by Jackie Hill Perry (audiobook)

One sentence summary: Jackie Hill Perry shares about her life, struggles with sexuality and journey of faith.

What I found compelling: Jackie has a very powerful voice – and shines through this book. It’s clear she has deep faith and I appreciated her emphasis on both grace and holiness.  It made me think a lot about how I pray for those around me – and how I expect to see God at work.

What I found less compelling: I appreciated that Jackie did not make her story normative for all believers –but I found her final section on resources to be lacking and not all that helpful.

Rating/Recommendation: 3.5. This was a quick listen and somewhat worthwhile, although I felt like it could have been better developed than it was, still I would recommend it, especially for youth workers and parents of teens.

A Week in Brighton by Jennifer Moore, Annette Lyon & Donna Hatch

One sentence summary: This is an anthology of 3 regency novellas set in Brighton.

What I found compelling: I have a fondness for these regency novellas. They may not be grand literature –but I find them amusing & lighthearted.

What I found less compelling: This probably wasn’t my favorite novella collection – judging by the fact that I’m currently struggling to remember them at all!

Rating/Recommendation: 3/3.5. I’ll recommend these collections if you enjoy some lighthearted, regency romance in the vein of Georgette Heyer (although there are some better options in the collections!)

Coming soon (currently reading these and a few more!):

Jane Austen at Home: A Biography by Lucy Worsley (audiobook)

Know My Name by Chanel Miller

The Little Prince (shockingly I’m reading this for the first time)

The Stationery Shop by Marjan Kamali

Hiding the Word in our Hearts

IMG_0355I had the privilege of growing up in a family that encouraged me to read the Bible and memorize Scripture. I remember memorizing passages of the Bible in Sunday School or Children’s Church even before I had the ability to read.  I even diagrammed sentences in my school curriculum… from the King James Version!

But one of my clearest memories of Bible memorization comes from my freshman year of high school. I was attending a Christian school at the time and in our Bible class through the course of the year, we memorized Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount – Matthew 5, 6, and 7.  At one point I got in to a spirited discussion with the teacher his decision to change the grading standards for our Bible memory quizzes. For each word we missed, we lost 25% — meaning you could miss a few conjunctions in 5 verses and get a 25%.  I argued passionately (albeit respectfully) that when the Bible talks about hiding the word in our hearts I don’t think it was meaning that degree of legalism – and quoted a few other verses along the way! While he didn’t change the rule that day (I don’t think he wanted to admit failure) a few weeks later it went back to the previous grading strategy where as long as we had the basic idea of the verse, we had minimal points deducted.

While I didn’t agree with the teacher’s brief grading strategy, in retrospect I realized his meaning behind it. He wanted us to take memorizing the Bible seriously. As we look throughout Scritpture, I think it’s clear that knowing God’s Word is something we should take seriously “lest we forget” as we see happen over and over again to God’s people  – and our hearts turn away from him toward the many idols of the world.

About 10 years after the mini-debate with my Bible teacher, I stood at the top of the hill on my seminary campus. (Coincendentally, around that same time, my parents ran into that Bible teacher who was not surprised I was in seminary.)  I was walking around on a sunny, but cold spring day, gripped by anxiety about my future. I’d come to seminary with such certainty of God’s plan and calling – and yet in this moment I had no idea what the future held in store. As I stood there looking out – seeing a small glimpse of the ocean in the distance – I heard a slight chirping of a bird – and I began to hear the words in head so loudly that it was almost like they were audibly being spoken from Matthew 6:25-34:

“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?  And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’  For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.  But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.“Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”

Those words continued to repeat themselves over and over again, I couldn’t stop the refrain. They quieted my anxious heart  and reminded me of God’s provision. If someone had asked me to quote them Matthew 5, 6 and 7 to them a few minutes before, I don’t think I would have been able to. But in that moment, the Holy Spirit spoke to me – using those words I’d hidden in my heart so many years before.

Today, I can often forget how important it is to commit to memorizing Scripture, but it’s just as important today, as it was for that much younger version of me who argued with her Bible teacher, citing Scripture along the way.  We don’t just memorize Scripture to gain knowledge or impress people.  We memorize Scripture because we believe that God’s words are living and active – and he uses them to speak to us and conform us to his image.

When we memorize Scripture, we recognize that the Word is living and active among us – that the same Word that became flesh can come alive in our hearts and lives and transform us – so we can reflect his glory, grace and truth.

If you are interested in digging more into Scripture memorization, please consider joining our community of women at Do Learn Scripture Memory. 

What if?


(written for my church Advent devotional)

What if the Lord had not been on our side? 

Let all Israel repeat: What if the Lord had not been on our side when people attacked us?

They would have swallowed us alive in their burning anger. The waters would have engulfed us; a torrent would have overwhelmed us. Yes, the raging waters of their fury would have overwhelmed our very lives. Praise the Lord, who did not let their teeth tear us apart! We escaped like a bird from a hunter’s trap. The trap is broken, and we are free!

Our help is from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.

-Psalm 124

What if? This is a question that can cause endless stress and anxiety in our lives. What if I’d taken a different job? Married a different person? What if I’d kept my mouth shut instead of speaking up? Spoke up instead of keeping silent? Raised my children differently?

We can drive ourselves crazy asking ourselves questions that there is no real way to answer and obsessing about potential past failures or mistakes. But there is a question we can always answer: what if the Lord was not with us?

In the Psalms, David says that if the Lord had not been with the Israelites they would have been completely destroyed. Our answer to the question today may look a little different, but the principle remains the same. Without the Lord, we are capable of nothing. Although we might not see instant physical destruction, we are not capable of producing anything of eternal value. In the end all of the things we desperately seek to build with human hands are worthless if our hope is not firmly planted in Jesus Christ – knowing his sovereign plan if far greater than our human limitations.

So today when we are tempted to ask the question “what if” in a way that causes us fear and anxiety, perhaps we should ask different questions. What if I lived every day knowing that God is in control regardless of the circumstances? What if I follow the Lord’s will instead of chasing after things that will fade away? What if I trust that the Lord is with me no matter what?

As we answer the questions, I hope we are reminded that we can be free of the fearful “what ifs.” We are free because we know that Jesus came and took upon him the sin, injustice and brokenness of this world and overcame them. So we don’t have to wonder if we can have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ – we are given the opportunity to walk with him each and every day – knowing that He is the only place our help can come from.

Where’s your hope?


It’s been nearly 8 months now since I made the move back from China to the US. In some ways, it seems like my life in China is a distant dream. But in many other ways, it feels like the adjustment is far from over. It didn’t take long after arriving on American soil that I began to question the wisdom of moving back to the US during an election year. Election years tend to bring out the worst in people – and 2016 has been far from the exception.

There are many things to be discouraged or disturbed about during this election season. From the candidates we’ve seen scandals, dishonesty, racism, sexism, and lack of integrity. From the American public we’ve seen many lose the ability to engage in civil discourse and resort to bitter and nasty conversations – both on and offline. Yet in spite of all of these discouraging things (and many more!), that is not what bothers me most. What continually troubles me is when I see Christians, people that should be the forerunners of life, love, and hope, instead being the forerunners in anger, hatred, and despair.

In too many conversations and Facebook posts, I see Christians sounding so much like the rest of the world as they lament the future of America (and often falling into an even greater level of despair). While I agree there are things to be concerned about, I wonder if we’ve forgotten our role as the church to be agents of change in our communities – not through political arguments, but rather through sacrificial service and love, even in the midst of persecution. I wonder if in our desperate fear for the future of America, we’ve forgotten that we serve a God who is far bigger than any presidential candidate’s ego.

I’ve travelled and lived in places around the world where governments are far more corrupt than ours is, where Christian liberty is unheard of, and where people have little to no say in what their government does or does not do. While I’m certainly not saying that I hope our government becomes more like theirs, I would like to see our church learn from theirs – because in these places where Christians have all of the reasons in the world to fall into despair, they often have so much more joy and hope than we see within the walls of our churches.

Over and over again in the Bible, we are admonished not to put our trust “in princes, in human beings, who cannot save” (Ps. 146:3). We are also reminded that God’s purposes are accomplished through even the most wicked rulers – and yet so often God’s people would forget this and once again turn to earthly rulers for their salvation. Sound a little familiar?!

There can be many good arguments against either candidate of the two major parties’ candidates for president. I’m not addressing those here. But what I hope for each of us, regardless of whom we cast our votes for, is that we realize God’s purposes and plans will not be thwarted by the outcome of this election. I also hope that we realize in the midst of a nation divided, a time where this is so much darkness and despair, that instead of joining that chorus, we can sing a new song celebrating our hope is in something far greater.