Category Archives: faith

the Good News of the Gospel and my faith walk

Four Great Christmas Books for Young Children

This post originally appeared on Everyday Exiles.

I have a big red bin full of books I pull out only during Advent and Christmas time. It includes silly ones about melting snowmen, and a couple of those touchy-feely Usborne books for toddlers, but it also includes a few beautiful stories. Of course, like everyone, we love The Polar Express and How the Grinch Stole Christmas, but these are a little lesser known. Here are my favorite books I read with my kids during this season.

Song of the Stars. This Sally Lloyd-Jones beauty is one of my favorite books ever. With beautiful illustration by Alison Jay, it is similar to SLJ’s Jesus Storybook Bible (which has a WONDERFUL telling of Jesus’s birth, by the way) on keeping Jesus at the center of the season, and emphasizing his saving of us all, not just his birth. The story begins with the tangible excitement of his coming, rustling through the leaves and being sensed by all of nature, this gift that would change the world.

Room for a Little One. This one is a toddler book, but it’s so sweet. My kids have loved naming the animals as we go through it, and seeing Jesus’s birth from the perspective of those unsuspecting characters. It’s by Martin Waddell.

Birds of Bethlehem. Now THIS is a neat book, by Tomie de Paola. We see the story of Jesus’s birth from some birds in and around Bethlehem. They are chattering away, sharing stories about how a baby has been born, angels sang, shepherds and wise men visited, and what it all means.

The Gift of the Magi. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t love this story by O. Henry. A beautiful telling of a couple who have nothing to give to each other, but end up showing their love by giving everything. The version I have is illustrated by P. J. Lynch, and is simply stunning. I can’t read it without crying.

What are the most treasured Christmas books in your family?

A Christmas Itch

This post originally appeared on Everyday Exiles.

Every year at this time, I get the itch.

No, it’s not just my dry skin.

I get the itch to play that Christmas music, get out my decorations, and even to watch those cheesy movies. You know why? Because I truly do believe it’s the most wonderful time of the year. My home state has a chill in the air – but not too chilly, because, let’s be honest, enough is enough when it comes to cold weather. Lights are beginning to twinkle at some of the houses on my street. Stores are full of Christmassy colors, freshly baked treats, and boxes of glittery cards to send to loved ones. It really, really is the most wonderful, incredible time of the year.

But it isn’t the borderline-oppressive red and green decorations, the Christmas cookies, or even the sweet-smelling wreaths and garlands that make this the best time of year. No, it’s much more than that. It’s the general feeling of goodwill the circulates, because it’s even more apparent than usual that we’re part of a bigger story. The story that began all this stuff, this gift-giving and song-singing, is a story that has always been written. In fact, it started who knows how many millennia ago, before the beginning of time as we know it. And it’s still going on now; we’re not to its end. This narrative, the story of all of us, it’s not even remotely over.

You see, God knew this story was going to play out like this. He knew each of us, before we were knitted together in our mothers’ wombs, before our great-great-great-grandparents were even thought of. Before the flood, or even Adam and Eve. God is so far out of time as we know it that He probably feels like all that stuff was just this morning. He has known forever that we wouldn’t be perfect, or even good, without His help. He knew we’d screw up and need some serious intervention. But He didn’t stop loving us or start holding back His help. He provided the ultimate way for our saving, a way to let us be closer to Him. He had this majestic plan to send His Son before He even created us!

What does all of this mean? It means is that we have been given the greatest gift possible. We’ve been given the most perfect gift in the form of a helpless babe in arms. What kind of God sends His love to someone like that? As it turns out, an all-powerful, forever-gracious, fully righteous God sends His love like that. Love came down, under a bright star, in the dead of night, to an unwed mother and a frightened earthly father. Love came down to give hope, to live a perfect life, to be persecuted and crucified, to make straight a highway for our God to literally come alongside us. Jesus was the first Christmas gift, the most mind-blowing and expectation-shatttering gift ever.

Now, what does all of this mean for us? It means that we can call on God for anything and everything. It means that through Jesus, we are made holy and righteous, and God sees us that way. It means that, through Jesus, we have literally been given every spiritual blessing. Did you read that right? Every. Spiritual. Blessing. (Ephesians 1) That means we have the fruit of the spirit (Galatians 5). We can pray directly to our Father and receive the ability to do works, just as Jesus did (John 14). We can ask Holy Spirit to intercede for us (Romans 8).

He’s Sovereign Over the Shuffle

This piece originally appeared on Everyday Exiles. It’s extra appropriate to post right now, because I am running another half marathon this weekend!

This past weekend, I ran my third half marathon. As usual on race day, I’m driving to the race, asking the Lord for strength, endurance, and peace as I run. I enjoyed an incredible sunrise as I was driving east, reminding me of His promises that His mercies are new each morning, and His love never fails. I just so happened to be late because of the hurricane that had wrecked trees and power lines all over the region, leading to road closures and power outages (including red lights). So as I literally ran to the starting line while tying my shoes, the peace I had felt in the car left me pretty quickly.

However, I love a long run on a cool day, and that’s exactly what I got. Headphones in and shuffle turned on for my race playlist (yes, I have a race playlist, more on that later), I REALLY enjoyed my first ten miles. It didn’t actually get tough until then. You’d better believe when the running starts to get tough, I rely on my playlist to get me through that tough spot to where I can breath easily again. I craft a race playlist to be way too long, in case I hit a song I don’t want to listen to in the moment. I ask friends for upbeat suggestions of things I’ve never heard of (bonus points for Latin pop) and worship songs that don’t drag. I stack the deck, so to speak, with interesting or new songs, songs about Jesus, and songs I’d dance to at a wedding. It’s actually pretty fun to see what comes up, and the Lord shows His kindness to me by reigning over the shuffle.

For instance, around 10.5 miles, I began to drag my feet. The next song up was Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off”. Just being fair, there’s no beat to perk you up like this one. Later, there was a huge, slow hill leading up to the finish, and my shuffle provided me with a song that has kept me going in other long runs: “Alive In You”, sung by Kim Walker-Smith on Jesus Culture’s Let It Echo. This has long been a favorite for my running playlists, and these lyrics are why: You are strong in my brokenness, sovereign over every step. Even in the fire I’m alive, I’m alive in You. I won’t lie, I need that reassurance more often than I’d like.

I often feel broken. It’s a result of the fall. We are all broken. It’s the plight of living in the world but not of the world… we realize we’re made for something more, and this world leaves us feeling dejected, like we’re missing something, like we aren’t a good fit. But in the midst of this brokenness, Jesus has entered in, met us, saved us, and made us whole. As it reads in 2 Corinthians 12:9, His grace is sufficient for me! His power and strength are made perfect in my weakness!

As for needing my Heavenly Father to direct my path and show up in His sovereignty over my steps, I need it daily in a literal and a figurative way. Amid the big-picture choices I make alongside my family, the ways I spend my time, and the choatic shuffle (see what I did there?) of everyday with young kids, I need my steps ordered for many reasons: so I am productive, so I am honoring God, so I am setting a good example for life and Godliness for my children, and (not the least of which by any means) so I don’t get all tripped up and fall where I should be soaring.

Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ! 1 Corinthians 15:57

Four Reasons It’s Great to Sow Into Your Local Church

I’m a big believer in spreading the Gospel and building the Kingdom of God. Why? Because it’s part of what we’re called to do as followers of Jesus. I’m also a big believer that ANYONE and EVERYONE can do that. There are so many ways to take part in those things, and the best place to start is within your local church. I LOVE the local church. Every small-town church, every multi-site church, every megachurch – they all are sowing into the everyday lives of people just like you and me, and I believe it’s one of our greatest gifts to be able to sow back into the local church. How will we do this? We are Biblically called to tithe, but I think it’s just as important to find a place to serve. Why? Well, here are a few of my favorite reasons:

It’s easy! I don’t know a single church in existence that doesn’t have a job for a willing volunteer. Seriously, a lot of people think the only thing you can volunteer to do with work with kids. That just isn’t true. If that’s not your ministry of choice, just ask a pastor or ministry area leader how you can help, and they will direct you! Be sure to communicate your level of commitment – it’s okay if it’s low! A cheerful helper always has a place at a church.

It builds community and relationships. If you’re new to your church and looking for a way to get connected, giving your time to a ministry is a wonderful way to start. You’re rarely a lone volunteer on a project, and it’ll immediately connect you to people in various areas of leadership or service. If you aren’t new to your church, but you haven’t found a tribe there yet, get plugged in to a ministry, like being a greeter, a musical worship volunteer, or join the technology team! I’d bet you don’t have to be super-skilled in technology (or any other area) to be able to help out, or learn as you go.

It helps the wider community. Many churches have volunteer opportunities that are more outreach-centered. Ask what regular contributions your church makes to local ministries or organizations. I’ll bet your church partners at some level with helping the homeless, feeding the hungry, or providing for needy children.

It’s good to see the Church isn’t perfect. The Church (yes – even the “Big-C Church”) is comprised of – you guessed it! – imperfect humans. I think it’s important to get to know your church leaders on a personal level, working alongside them to build the Kingdom. One of the biggest reasons that I think it’s important is to dispel the often incorrect idea that church leaders are superheroes, or even worse, somehow perfect. We all have bad days, we all spill our coffee from time to time, and we all sometimes cry at  stupid Hallmark commercials. Pastors and ministry leaders included!

So if you’ve been holding off on giving your time and talents to the local church, I implore you to give it a try. There’s never a bad time to sow into a church community!

God Knows Best

This piece originally appeared on Everyday Exiles.

My four-year-old just lost his first tooth. At age four. As the second “dentally precocious” child we’ve had, I wasn’t quite as surprised as I might’ve been, but still… I had some feelings of “Already?!”

As an adult, I’ve noticed that there have been SO many milestones – graduations, weddings, births, etc. – that I’ve come across for myself and for family and friends. But there have also been little, seemingly insignificant “milestones” that have almost passed me by. For instance, the loss of a first tooth seems like a big thing, right? Well, what if it’s your second child? You still give the money from the tooth fairy, and you still take a picture of that first hole in his mouth. But does it feel as crazy as your oldest child’s first tooth being gone?

Each and every new little landmark that we pass as a family has been hitting me… HARD. We just stopped using diapers with our youngest. I’ve been crying about how I probably won’t have any more babies but I’m SO FREE without a diaper bag. Our oldest is reading pretty darn well on her own, and while that’s a huge milestone to her first grade teacher, it didn’t feel huge until I realized she was reading bedtime stories to her brothers with no problem. Is my job all done there? Even her homework has been throwing me for a loop – since when do first graders have homework where they need my iPad for half an hour to accomplish it?!

I know, I know… I’m being dramatic, and I don’t even have those postpartum hormones to blame. But some days, every new, however small, display of independence from my kids has me reeling – I want them to need me. Heck, I’m 32 years old and I need someone to guide me. I want to show them that independence is good, and necessary, and we will happily celebrate it! But a little dependence on a parent who has been around the block, cares for you deeply, and can help guide you? This is not to be ignored.

You see, I need a little leading from Holy Spirit sometimes. I need a little nudge here and rebuke there. How else will I grow more and more into a person who looks even a little like Jesus? I need a little boost of courage, of “I’ve got you” as I try out something new. I need a rebuke when I slip into my old ways. I need a guiding presence as I navigate waters I’ve never sailed. How best can I show these weaknesses and strengths to my children as I raise them?

God, only you know how to do this best. Only You can allow me to lead when they need guidance, push when they need propelling forward, let them flourish when they’re walking right where they should, and yes, knock them down a peg when they’re… being stinkers. But with Your guidance, I can guide them. This isn’t the blind leading the blind, you know. This is a mama, doing her best to follow her Father in His footsteps as I lead my littles on their way, too.

His Power Is Made Perfect…

This piece originally appeared on Everyday Exiles.

This past week, my family had an awful experience. We went on vacation, and our house got robbed. Burglarized. Broken into and violated and stolen from. A horrid experience overall, also stealing our sense of safety along with the thousands of dollars of possessions we no longer own.

Just let me tell you this: if it has never happened to you, there is just no way to know how it feels. It’s interesting, the process of grieving that you go through after your home is violated in such a way. There’s definitely all five stages, and they manifest accordingly: denial (There’s just no WAY that actually happened. I’m dreaming.), anger (I could REALLY punch that guy in the face for breaking my front door and stealing my stuff!), bargaining (If I had just left one more light on, this wouldn’t have happened. I bet the guy wouldn’t have taken so much if we had hidden it.), depression (I’ll never be safe again. Goodbye, sleep, it was nice to know you.), and finally, acceptance (I didn’t really need those things. They were just “stuff” and my family wasn’t harmed.)

Maybe it’s trite that I’m comparing a robbery in my house to the loss of a person in my life, but I will tell you this: it felt like a loss. It felt like a humiliation, a violation, an inordinate catastrophe, and in the MIDDLE of my VACATION! I’m making light of it for your own benefit, but I’ve cried a fair amount of tears over it, too.

But what do you do when this happens? You miss your stuff, of course, but there’s almost no recovering it. There’s perhaps an insurance claim to file, but even that doesn’t replace what you lost, and it certainly doesn’t replace your sense of (false?) security. So I’ll tell you what I’ve done. I prayed that God would take away my fear, my anger, and my sense of entitlement to those earthly things. I’ve thanked Him that no one was home to be violated in person, and that heirlooms and sentimental items weren’t taken. I’ve thanked Him for our friends who rallied around us, and for the fact we could afford to have an alarm system installed (immediately following the incident). I’ve prayed that sleep would return to my husband and me, and that we would not be looking in the face of every stranger, wondering if they were the robber who had offended us so.

In processing this trauma (yes, trauma) I had realized I feel a certain level of guilt. The “what-ifs” and “if-I-had-onlys”have plagued me since I first found out, and my conscience feels heavy about the fact that it happened at all. I am victim-blaming, and I don’t know how to stop. I feel responsible, indignant, frustrated, and sad. I have even had the thought, “Is this God telling us we have too much stuff, or that we put too much stock in earthly possessions?” But no, I do not truly feel that we are being punished. I don’t believe in a vengeful or hurtful God. I believe in a God who will redeem the situation – a God who will provide me with humility gently as I process, and strength to do what needs to be done in the wake of an awful situation. I don’t possess this strength on my own; God has provided me with strength to explain it to my kids, to file reports and papers, to clean up graphite dust from fingerprinting, and to process with my tribe ad nauseum. You see, God can take my frailty and weakness, and turn it into a place for His strength to shine. 2 Corinthians 12:9 is a verse I have clung to: But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in your weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so the power of Christ may rest upon me.”

I’d be lying if I said that had been easy. But part of my weakness and His strength is that I can ask Him again and again and again to help me let go of the anger and pride I feel, and He will gently lead me to humility and forgiveness. His power is indeed made perfect in my ever-embarrassing and stubborn weakness.

Girl Wash Your Face

This piece originally appeared on Everyday Exiles.

Have you read Girl Wash Your Face yet? It’s a hot topic around the country, with many people singing the praises of this Rachel Hollis gal who went from zero to hero, all by making the choice to do so. She just decided it. Sounds easy enough, right?

This media and marketing “guru” has a story like many of us… lowly beginnings, hardships, and extra-relatable troubles in the job, family, and dating world. Although she meets Matt Damon, which puts her leaps ahead of me, personally. She has several pieces of good advice, which she has personally experienced to be able to write this book. No one is arguing that. Also, I LOVE the premise of the book: Stop Believing the Lies About Who You Are So You Can Become  Who You Were Meant to Be. Who doesn’t want to read a book about disproving lies and destroying strongholds? I need more of that in my life! After all the great press and positive reviews from friends, I decided to read the book for myself.

She’s a great writer. All the lies that she picked (one per chapter) are very real struggles that women have, many of them every day issues. The lie that you’re not a good mom, that you’re defined by your weight, or that you’ll never get past this – well, those are all lies that we ALL want dispelled so our focus and our lives can move on to bigger and better things. I’m not here to tell you her main ideas were wrong.

But what really gets me going is the fact that she’s writing as a “Christian” and rarely mentions Jesus. She parades herself as the hero of the story, how her hard work, her tough choices, and her knowledge contributed to her success. And that’s the American dream, right? Knowing if you fail, you have no one to blame but yourself. If you succeed, you’re the only one who gets the credit. Right?

In my opinion, wrong.

Jesus is the hero of my story. He’s in control (just like the cliche says) and I know that first and foremost, I have to trust Him with everything. As much as I LOVE to think I’m in control, I’m just not. I can make choices, yes, and do things inside and outside of God’s will for my life. But ultimately I know that joy is better than happiness, and peace is better than success, and God is the Giver of those things. The book is full of dos and don’ts, full of ideas to help you be more efficient and focused. But what the book isn’t full of is prayers for when you’ve hit the bottom, praises for when you’ve been delivered out of something, or reminders that your identity is not in YOU – or your critics and onlookers – but in JESUS and His sacrifice that placed you into the family of God. Your identity is the one given to you by your Savior, not the one that you imagine up for yourself.

A quick chat with a friend last night helped me realize that what throws me off the most about the hype surrounding this “Christian” book that doesn’t point me to Jesus is this: it isn’t heresy. It’s not bold-faced lies or something outlandish like devil worship. It’s not that obvious why it’s not on track with Biblical truths. It’s Jesus and. Jesus and making good connections in LA, and marrying the right guy. Jesus and self-confidence, and control of my situations. Jesus and knowing my self-worth and not taking no for an answer. Well I have news for you: Jesus IS. He IS in control, my confidence is in HIM, and HIS yes or no or not yet are the only answers I care about.