Hypocrites are the worst

I used to think hypocrites were the worst. Give me the truly honest person any day – the person whose words and actions always line up.

I’d rather have the person that outwardly rejects faith than the person who says he believes, but his life reflects something very different. How could I listen to someone whose actions didn’t consistently reflect her words?

But an interesting thing has happened this past year in my life. Well, quite a few interesting things.

First, and most notably, I got married. After more than 33.5 years of singleness (and I was VERY single for the majority of that time), I’m now living my life daily with another person. Marriage has made me realize over and over again how often in the past I held back and didn’t fully show myself to people – even close friends and roommates who I lived daily life with. Often I would run away from situations if they felt uncomfortable or if conflict might ensue. I gave lots of “helpful” advice to others – which I really is much easier to give than live.

Becoming a wife (and stepmom to teen girls!) has shown me so much about myself. And if I’m honest, there are many times I don’t like what I see – many times when I find that I’m so far from living out the words I’ve spoken to others. There are so many times when I wonder why I’m not living what I say.

Another thing that has caused awakening is regular writing and journaling. I find myself asking the question – is what I’m saying true of me?

And the answer often seems – “sort of.” Often it may be what I hope to be true, but it might not be fully true.

And I’m left a fraud. A hypocrite.

And then I remember.

I remember those words I’d emblazoned across the top of my blog. Through the lens of grace. Those are words I continually need to emblazon across the top of my heart. I need to remember the lens of grace doesn’t just apply to how I see what’s happening “out there.” In fact, in order to be able to apply that grace “out there,” I first have to remember it applies to me.

That radical grace applies to me – the self-righteous hypocrite. It applies to the one who fails so often in what I hope to do or say or be. But I’m not defined by that failure.  

And that realization is not one that should plunge me into despair, but makes me realize that I’m in as much desperate need of daily grace as “those hypocrites” I’m so quick to judge.* So maybe it’s not hypocrites who are the very worst – rather it’s those of us who can’t admit that sometimes we are.

* Hypocrisy: the practice of claiming to have moral standards or beliefs to which one’s own behavior does not conform; pretense. Don’t get me wrong, clearly Jesus has a lot of harsh things to say about hypocrites. Perhaps another day, I will discuss whether or not our words and actions not lining up is true hypocrisy – because there is a degree which we all struggle for our words and actions to align. Hypocrisy is defined by pretense, pretending or the desire to keep up appearances. But in our everyday language, we often don’t differentiate and tend to call anyone whose words and actions don’t align “a hypocrite.”

Grief, Mourning & a Coffee Shop

I learned a few weeks ago that my beloved coffee shop across from my office building closed permanently. When I heard the news, I wasn’t shocked, but I was quite sad. But as the weeks have passed, whenever I think about it I feel a gripping grief. As I lay in bed last week, thinking about our office reopening (eventually), but the coffee shop no longer being there, I began to feel overwhelmed. The sadness was rising up inside of me and tears started streaming down my face.

I really loved that coffee shop.   It might seem a little odd because I’m not actually much of a coffee drinker. I’m pretty sure I ordered a beverage containing coffee there less than five times – but I did learn that Dirty Chais (especially when I’d been up since 5 am) were pretty amazing. I first visited little cafe when I interviewed for my job. As a bit of a foodie, when visiting new places I like to check out what kind of restaurants, cafes, etc. are in the area that I should check out. The coffee shop popped up at the top of my search bar. As soon as I walked in, I sensed the place was special. It was more than just a shop – there was a palpable sense of community.

Early on I discovered, they served Hugo mango iced tea – and after a couple of weeks I realized there were free refills! I would typically get my iced tea around lunch time and then a couple hours later get my 2nd cup of tea (maybe once or twice I got a third cup!). It wasn’t long before the owner and regular barista, Harleigh and Tom, knew me by name. There were a few regular customers who I began to chat with and those conversations often lifted me up through the day. Even before COVID-19, as I began to work from home more often, I missed going there. 

But when I return to my office, they won’t be there. The tears made no sense, yet the tears made all the sense in the world. I was grieving for more than the coffee shop. I was grieving for the way in which things will never be the same. The last few months have changed the world in many ways. I’m sure it will be quite some time before we even realize the full extent of it. But I know I often want to skip over the grieving. I want to see the bright side – try to look at the positives. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s good to be thankful and see the ways God is at work. But sometimes I have to give myself permission to grieve – to recognize it’s okay to feel the loss of things that will never be the same.

It’s about more than just the coffee shop. I’ve experienced a lot of change in my life. A lot of change in the past year. A lot of change in the past 3 years. The past 5 years. The past 10 years. Yes, a lot of change. I can skip from one adventure or project or city or country to the next. And I can try to ignore that period of mourning – that acknowledgment that things won’t ever be the same – and the real grief that comes with that realization.

It’s about more than just this moment. Sometimes one event brings the grief with it of so many other memories – times I haven’t stopped to acknowledge the change or loss. So much of Scripture tells us to remember, to lament, and to acknowledge grief and change. I’m reminded of the seasons of Ecclesiastes 3 – and realize that those seasons don’t necessarily occur in isolation. Sometimes we mourn while we dance. We have to see death in order to experience new life.

So today, I mourn for the loss of my coffee shop. I mourn for the owners and workers who brought so much joy to me and others – who have lost something they poured their lives into. I also grieve the many changes and losses in my own life – the many things that will never be the same. But I also celebrate that coffee shop. I celebrate the friends I’ve made around the world, the places I’ve seen, and the moments that I’ll never recapture – because those people, places, and things have made me who I am today.  

Yes, it’s about more than just the coffee shop – but that coffee shop was more than just a coffee shop. It was a part of my life. And it’s okay – and even good – to mourn the lost parts of our lives – and like the many other parts of my life that have existed and shaped me for a season, I will carry it with me wherever I go.  

Whatever is True: COVID-19 Reflections

For the past few weeks, there have been so many thoughts swirling in my head. I’ve tried to write them down many times – yet somehow every time the words don’t fully come. I’ve realized in part that I’m enough of an extrovert that lack of interaction with people can dry up all the words flowing in my mind.

But it’s also because while there are so many things being said – and I don’t want to add something not helpful to the noise.

During times of doubt, crisis and stress – I tend to ask myself a question: what do I know to be true? In Philippians, when Paul exhorts believers to not be anxious, it’s followed by the reminder to focus on whatever is true (Phil. 4:8). There are many things that I know to be true. While these ideas/thoughts aren’t specific to the times, they are what keeps coming to my mind.  They are truths that exist every day – and helpful to think about as we have time to recalibrate during these uncertain times.

  1. It’s okay if you’re not okay.

Perhaps you’re familiar with the song by We are Messengers that says, “maybe it’s okay if we’re not okay ‘cause the one who holds the world is holding onto me.”

We live in a society where we think we always need to be okay. We answer I’m fine or I’m good when people ask – and on rare occasion when we share a real struggle in response to the rote “how are you” question, people may be uncomfortable or taken aback.

We can think we need to automatically bounce back from loss or deep pain. We can see grief or lament as a sign of weakness. Yet, as we look through Scripture and history, grief and lament are deeply important. There are pages of the Bible filled with grief – with people pouring their hearts out to God in the midst of unanswered questions and unknown circumstances. Isaiah 53, a prophetic text about Jesus, the Messiah is described as “a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief.”

2. Give a lot of grace.

I saw an article a couple weeks ago that said something like 1/5 people had gotten in arguments about the coronavirus with family members.  I couldn’t find the article  (so I apologize if that’s inaccurate)– but I do remember thinking, “I’m shocked the number is that low.” I would guess most of you reading this have experienced some sort of conflict about COVID-19 – and it could just be conflict with everyone being home together!

In the midst of high-stress situations, people can act/react in ways that are far outside their normal character. And it’s easy to jump to condemnation. I know I’ve been guilty doing this many times (and that might just be today). Yet, while I’m quick to judge others, I hope that others show me grace in the moments where I jump to conclusions, respond too quickly or forget what really matters. And I’m continually convicted that I need to show the same grace to others as what I hope they would show to me.

I know this may come as a shock to some – but it’s highly unlikely anyone reading this is a COVID-19 expert. Yes, we may have all read many articles by experts of various stripes – scientists, professors, doctors and politicians – but we really don’t know the whole picture. And probably won’t for quite some time. Let’s also give grace in this. People may express opinions you don’t agree with. But is it worth fracturing of relationships to figure out who is really “right?” I would very rarely say yes (and also something that’s important to remember as we approach yet another joyful season of elections).

3. Focus on what you can do – not what people might do.

I’ve heard a lot of people talk about what some people might do. People might get desperate and start rioting the streets. People could start looting. People might panic and do crazy things. Obviously, we have seen some crazy things happen. It’s not every day that someone is practically attacking an old woman over toilet paper in the grocery store (but that video does exist).

But I wonder how I would be different if we instead focused on what we can do. How can you help those around you who are hurting? How can we be forces for good in our community? How can we find ways to help and serve those in need?

I don’t know what God might be calling you to today – maybe it’s sending a text message to an isolated friend, maybe it’s picking up groceries for a homebound neighbor, maybe it’s donating food to a local foodbank. But I do know that we can be part of people might do – how people might start showing love and kindness in ways never seen before.

4. Think about the big picture.

Perspective can be a pretty powerful thing. One of my favorite passages in the Bible is in II Corinthians 4, where Paul reminds us that our “light and momentary troubles are preparing for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.”

In the midst of restrictions, fear and a completely different way of life, it can be hard to remember this is a moment in time. And even in this difficult moment in time, there can be many good things. A friend reflected that perhaps many years from now this will be a time his kids remember daily breakfasts with their dad.

I’ve also reflected on how many people around the world live with much more intense restrictions than I’m experiencing now every day – with no hope of respite. My heart breaks when I think about people (mainly women and children) around the world trapped in human trafficking and the number of refugees displaced from their homes living in camps – not knowing if they will ever truly have a place to call home.

As I was thinking of many of us “trapped” in our homes for relatively short periods of time, I’m reminded to pray and advocate for those who have no means to escape far more devastating circumstances. This is not to diminish the difficulties people are experiencing (lost jobs, decreased income, etc.) – but to remember the many comforts we enjoy that many may never have the opportunity to have.

(Note: if you are interested in supporting refugees during this time, there are many organizations doing great work -two that I follow/support are Preemptive Love & World Relief.)

5. Focus on priorities, not plans.

Americans really love to make plans. When I lived in China, this was especially obvious. Sometimes a Chinese friend would give me an odd look when I tried to plan lunch a week in advance. When I returned to the US, it seemed I’d be unlikely to have lunch with a friend if I only asked a week in advance. But this is a time, when it’s very hard to make plans. Things are rapidly changing day to day. It reminds me of my favorite Chinese proverb: “plans can’t keep up with changes.”

But in the midst of this, we have an opportunity to focus on our priorities – and perhaps even reprioritize our lives. I had been reading John Mark Comer’s Ruthless Elimination of Hurry (I didn’t hurry enough through it – so now I have to wait 6 weeks to get it again from the library!). Comer talks about our cultural obsession with hurry – and how that keeps up from truly living and loving as Christ call us to do.

What are daily rhythms, habits and disciplines we hope to be part of our lives? How can we take time now to refocus and establish those priorities at the center of our lives?

6. Remember.

The Bible is filled with admonishments to remember, with the sobering line “lest you forget.” We are a forgetful people. That is why there is so much emphasis on recounting, writing down, making clear signs of what God has done.

This is a time when it is so important to remember. It might be important to sit down and write the times when God was faithful in your life. Remember what really matters. Remember what the Lord has done. Remember the character of God.

Write down small encouraging things that happen each day. Say a prayer of thankfulness for those things.

Lamentations 3:19-23 says:

The thought of my suffering and homelessness is bitter beyond words. I will never forget this awful time, as I grieve over my loss. Yet I still dare to hope when I remember this: The faithful love of the Lord never ends! His mercies never cease.


Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each morning. I say to myself, “The Lord is my inheritance; therefore, I will hope in him!”

The Lord is good to those who depend on him, to those who search for him.

Ultimately, when we remember – we can grieve and lament – but we are not a people without hope – because the faithful Lord who rescued his people again and again is the same one who upholds us in the midst of worldwide pandemic – and every other day.  

I hope you find some hope and encouragement in these words. Recently, I wrote about the Chiefs bringing Kansas City together. But this crisis can have a way of bringing many more people together, even as we’re in our individual homes. My hope & prayer is that we can look for ways for it to bring us together with our neighbors – next door and on the other side of the world – instead of it tearing us apart.

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