Inspirational

Book Review: Remarkable Faith

Posted by | beautiful mess, Behold, Book reviews, Hope, Identity, Inspirational, Sharing faith, Stories, writing | No Comments

 

I have always loved stories. Even from the time I was a little girl, I have been enthralled with the power of story. When I was in the throes of my elementary school years, my family attended a little neighborhood church on the south side of Chicago. I was always eager to get to Sunday School class. There were not a lot of bells and whistles. We didn’t have a fancy worship band or videos with animated Bible characters to capture our attention.

We did have two teachers who were gifted storytellers.

Every week, these teachers would take turns unfolding the details of the Bible. I was filled with wonder when I heard about the ark-builders and giant-slayers, but I was also drawn to the “quieter stories.” I was intrigued by the woman who gave her copper coins in the offering, which was a sacrifice of all she owned. I could not get enough of the stories about Jesus. I was captivated by the way he talked to the woman at the well and washed his disciples’ dirty feet.

These were not just stories to me, but examples with skin on them that eventually led me to deepen my young faith.

 

When I opened Shauna Letellier’s recently-released book, Remarkable Faith, I was filled anew with childlike wonder over the Bible stories. Like a master storyteller, Shauna draws us into eight Bible stories of “unremarkable” people who went to great lengths to get to Jesus. As a result of their faith, Jesus healed them and used them as examples of remarkable faith.

I was immediately drawn into this book because of the way Shauna reimagines these stories in such a vivid and historically accurate way. She helped me to feel the exhaustion of the father whose son was demon-possessed, to understand the wrestling in the mind of the paralyzed man, to appreciate the response of the noble centurion who counted himself not even worthy to take Jesus’ time and to see the courage of the blind beggars who called out for healing.

This is not typically the genre of book I would pursue but Shauna makes me think outside of the box. Shauna doesn’t just retell the story. She invites us to see, hear, smell, taste and touch the nuances of the culture and experience the world through the eyes of the characters.

I also appreciated her commentary after each story. Her words invite me to think about the implications of faith highlighted by each character. In her chapter on “Unworthy Faith,” I was especially challenged by these words:

“Whether you have built a synagogue, an orphanage, or a fine Christian reputation, you cannot earn God’s favor. God’s grace to us in Christ is a gift! … We cannot place God in our service by stockpiling good deeds and dangling them before him as a currency, as though we hold the carrot that makes him do our bidding.”

What a powerful reminder!

My favorite chapter in Remarkable Faith unfolds the story of the hemorrhaging woman in Mark 5 and her “suffering faith.” Readers are invited into the depths of this woman’s story. She was not only bleeding for more than 12 years, but she was also an outcast in her community because she was considered unclean. She was alienated from her family and likely taken advantage of by doctors. Shauna’s description of her healing is visceral and dramatic. We cannot help but rejoice and worship with her.

Whether you have read these stories many times in the Bible or you are new to them, I highly recommend Shauna’s Letellier’s book, Remarkable Faith. It’s a good read that offers a fresh perspective on faith through the lens of the Bible.

 

**If you love books, we need to be friends. I’d love to slip my Glorygram into your box each week with recommendations for my fave reads. You can also check out my other book reviews here. As always, leave your comments below, especially if you are interested in Shauna Letellier’s book or have your own take on it!

Book Review: Never Unfriended

Posted by | Book reviews, community, Compassion, fierce flourishing, friendship, Inspirational, Personal Stories, Self Doubt, Stories | No Comments

 

I’ll be honest. I’ve had this book on my nightstand for a month, and I didn’t want to read it.

Don’t get me wrong: I adore Lisa-Jo Baker and her writing. When her Surprised by Motherhood book came out, I raced through it and then bought copies for all my mama friends’ birthdays that year.

I just didn’t think a book titled Never Unfriended was for me. Gratefully, I’m surrounded by an amazing circle of friends and, if anything, my issue is not lack of friends but not having enough time to spend with these women.

As I stepped into this book, I quickly realized that Lisa-Jo had some important things to say about friendship that I needed to hear. I discovered that I do have some past hurts and hang-ups from broken friendships that have been weighing me down.

Lisa-Jo offers up a healthy mix of authentic, personal anecdotes and rich biblical teaching. About three chapters in, I realized this book wasn’t just about friendships gone awry or girl drama like I thought. This book is actually about cultivating real, authentic community. There couldn’t be a topic more near and dear to my heart.

I love how Lisa-Jo is willing to go first. She admits it’s taken her a while to get there but she’s committed to stepping out of her comfort zone for friendships. “So I’m going all in,” she writes, “I’m going to keep showing up and going first and telling my embarrassing stories because I’ve learned that it’s when we let people see the un-Photoshopped parts of our lives that they’re the most comfortable.”

Lisa-Jo models for us all the importance of vulnerability and commitment in pursuing friendships. She talks about the power of shared stories and letting people into our awkward moments and imperfect living rooms.

When Lisa-Jo starts talking about being “un-fine” in front of her friends, my mind immediately flashes back to two years ago when my husband was dying of cancer and my people rushed in to fold laundry, wash the grimy dishes, and hold me close when I was choking back the salty tears of my new reality.

This is the messy stuff true friendship is made of.

Perhaps the most challenging part of this book for me was Chapter 6, “We Can’t Control Other People’s Stories.” Lisa-Jo spoke right into my heart about some sticky friend situations I’ve endured in the past.

She wisely writes, “Every time a relationship has been more toxic than I could possibly transform, I was either too young or too vulnerable or too unqualified to be able to make anything healthy out of that environment. Because some wounds need professional, tender counseling from those qualified to speak objectively into a raw and hurting person. In those cases, God has given the protection of being able to grant forgiveness while simultaneously opening an exit for me to leave so there was still a chance to heal.”

Mic drop.

Lisa-Jo’s book whispers, “I’ve been there” while reminding me of healthy ways to navigate the ups and downs of friendship. I’m so very grateful I kept reading.

If you have ever suffered from FOMO, been squeezed tight by the clutches of competition, or wondered how to deepen your friendships in this chaotic world, this book is for you.

 

 

**If you are an avid reader, I encourage you to check out some of my other book reviews. These books have carried me through seasons of tragedy and triumph.

I often serve on book launch teams as a way to get to know authors and their message better. I had the privilege of being part of Lisa-Jo’s launch team for Never Unfriended.

Next month I’ll be reviewing a mama travel memoir by Tsh Oxenreider called At Home in the World. Feel free to read ahead! I’m already a chapter in, and it’s fabulous!

 

Farewell, old friend: When forty is the new thirty

Posted by | Be You Bravely, Behold, Biblical Womanhood, community, courage, creativity, death, family life, fierce flourishing, finishing well, friendship, gifts, Grief, Hope, individuality, Inspirational, kids, laughter, One Word, parenting, passion, relationships, rest, Stories, transitions | 4 Comments

 

This week I said goodbye to a good friend. She’s the friend who has walked with me through some of my greatest joys – the birth of two of my baby girls, finding my sweet spot in ministry, and learning a new language. She’s gone with me to book signings and baby showers. We have laughed until our bellies ached and sang together at the top of our lungs.

She’s also that friend who journeyed with me through the darkest days. She was there when he lost his job and Christmas was just around the corner. She was there when we were just scraping by, trying to raise a family. She was there when we received his cancer diagnosis. She stood with me by the graveside and sat by me when I wept and wailed my “whys” and “how comes” to God and the stars.

She’s been a faithful friend. She’s taught me how to love my body and stand firm in my convictions. She’s helped me to feel confident standing on a stage and mothering my three unique children. She’s the one who taught me how to let go of pretense and perfection.

Farewell, Thirties. Oh, how I will miss you.

I have a new friend now. I don’t like to replace people but it’s kind of turning out that way. Last Saturday we toasted my new friend with a full house and music spilling into our yard on Backer Avenue. We served up Indian food and delectable desserts. And my new friend swept into my life with a new haircut and a promise of new adventures to come.

Some people have jokingly called her my “mid-life friend.” I know better. I know she could be gone tomorrow.

She told me we have a blank canvas before us and handed me a paint brush. I pulled a new painter’s palette and basket of paints from that gift bag she brought. I don’t know how she knew I needed this. It’s like she read my journal or eavesdropped on my early-morning, whispered prayers.

“It’s time,” she said.

“Time for what?” I quizzed.

But I knew. I knew she was saying it’s time to remake myself.

It’s time to embrace all my old friend taught me and let go of the mistakes we made together. It’s time to stop worrying about pleasing people and start sharing this gorgeous glory story God has given me.

It’s time to move forward.

It’s time to give myself permission to rediscover, to explore, to celebrate, to rest and to remake me.

My new friend said I can run marathons, travel to new lands, jump into a new career, discover new adventures with my girls, dance wild and free with my new husband, and every once in a while linger over the memories of another life, another decade.

Hello, Forties. It’s so very good to meet you.

And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” ~Revelation 21:5

 

 

Would you like to read more about what I learned in my thirties decade?

Check out these blogs: 

Learning to flourish through the seasons

Personal Sabbath: How training for a marathon taught me to rest

Contemplating Lent: A Return to Gratitude

Posted by | Behold, Discipline, gifts, Inspirational, noticing goodness, Stories | No Comments

 

I press in like Elijah. He does not reply in the mighty storm, or in the breathtaking earthquake, or even in the consuming fire, but in a gentle whisper dancing before dawn on Ash Wednesday.

I hear it: gratitude.

He is calling me to return to the discipline of gratitude. I began my list of 1000 gifts more than six years ago now when my belly was just rounding with our third baby girl – a surprise! I learned from Ann that “thanksgiving always precedes the miracle.”

This Lenten season I return to that practice of looking for Him in the minute and the mundane. I am chasing the word “behold” this year. I’ve discovered it means “being held” by my Savior. It means taking a posture of wild-eyed wonder. It means pressing in to listen and witness the miracle. It means putting aside my addictions, my idols, my sacred cows, and braving the Word he has for me in this darkness.

For the last few months, I’ve been starting my day with music. I put together a Morning Worship playlist and I’m trying to fight the urge to reach for my phone and social media first. Admittedly, that’s become a reflex, a pathway. I need to reroute.

Instead, I’m turning back to music to ground me, to point me to the Father. And now I hear Him asking me to remove the clay from my eyes and see Him again in the everyday. I need to be intentional about stopping to notice, beholding the wonder of the world around me, and chasing His glory in all circumstances.

I’ve gotten away from the practice of listing my gifts. It’s been more than a year since I pecked out late night or early morning posts about how my Father was caring for us. Rest assured, He has. In fact, the blessings have been so abundant I had this little fear worming its way through my heart that people would think I was showing off. I wondered if celebrating the daily joy, the newlywed heart flutters, the glimpses of His glory, would somehow discourage others. I felt like a fraud while so many across the world are suffering.

Wednesday morning He chastised me. These words rang out in the darkness:

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:14-16).

 The glory is His. It’s not for me to hide or be ashamed of or even wonder what others will think about my lists. It’s about my posture of gratitude. If Lent is about giving things up and turning our hearts back to our first Lover, then I believe gratitude may be the pathway out of complacency. I’m looking for that route with the more glorious view.

And so I continue my counting gifts – the discipline that lifts me, that lifts us all, that causes me to see Him in the every day.

Here are a few gifts from my week:

  1. That candle, my wedding scent – a reminder that Beauty always comes from the Ashes
  2. The way he laughs when he holds the baby, such light
  3. My smallest girl screaming out in pain after dropping a dumbbell on her toe – just a smashed toenail, nothing more
  4. Dipping spoons in bowls of soup and sharing life with this beautiful mama in the quiet
  5. The way his daughter, who has been reluctant to participate, just up and jumped the farthest on the whole Track team, following her daddy in Heaven’s footsteps
  6. This house that is so much more than a new roof, but a symbol of a new life and multiplied provision
  7. All my girlies piled on the big bed to read before bed, now a sacred practice
  8. The light in her eyes when she presented her book for an autograph and proudly announced she, too, was Filipina like me
  9. That book of poetry and homemade pear syrup she gifted me from her heart
  10. A phone call from across the ocean from my heart-friend who is navigating a transition and learning to make an old home new

I hope you will join me for the next 40 days. Let’s take time to count gifts again. I’ll be on Instagram and Facebook with the hashtag #GloryChasers if you want to post your gift lists. Maybe we can take back the internet in the process. Maybe?!

When your morning feels stressful, start with music {and a free playlist!}

Posted by | Fear, Inspirational, rest, self-care, Stories | No Comments

 

About a year ago I was struggling with how to spend my time in the morning. I got in this rhythm where the first thing I did was reach for my phone and start scrolling through social media. One thing would lead to the next. I would read an article here, a post there. I would start a conversation with a friend about that cute kid picture she posted on Instagram or my heart would get all worked up about that political meme I saw on Facebook.

Before I knew it, more than an hour had passed and little people were crawling into my room. The day was sucking me in. I felt crabby because I didn’t have any time to quiet my soul, to read my Bible, to connect with God. I knew I had to make a change. I was squandering my time, and it was affecting my attitude.

That’s when I decided to create a Morning Worship playlist. I longed for a new rhythm, a new way to start my day. I wanted to get back to seeing God’s glory from the moment I woke up.

I am that girl who had a different sound track for every season of life. If I hear U2 or Sade or Amy Grant or Miles Davis, I can conjure up memories of another place and another time in my life. I grew up making those mix tapes on my little boom box in the ‘80s and burning CDs in the ‘90s. I was always working to assemble that just-right blend of tunes.

In 2014, I discovered Spotify. If you’ve never used Spotify before, it’s a free music app or site where you can make your own music playlists or listen to what others have compiled. Yes, this is the 2017 version of those mix tapes I used to make. I fell in love. (I even splurge for the premium account now so I don’t have to listen to commercials.)

I needed music in 2014 more than any other year. I remember those days vividly. Each morning before school, I urged my three girls to kiss their daddy one more time. We would pile in the family Highlander with our usual mess of backpacks, coats and lunches. I often choked back the tears, wondering if this would be their last goodbye. As the cancer continued to spread through his body, I had to juggle “normal” mama duties and being his caretaker.

The only thing that would lift me from the horror of each day was worship music.

On the drive back to our house from school drop offs, I would blast my music. The lyrics washed over me, lifting me, guiding me home. I poured my heart out to God in song. And He met me there.

I learned to redefine worship in that season. Music was not just playing in the background. It was my guide taking me to God in the darkest moments.

One of my favorite examples of how God uses music to bring healing in the Bible is in 1 Samuel 16. King Saul was tormented by an evil spirit that filled him with fear. His servants suggested looking for someone to play the lyre. They understood the power of music to calm the soul. They recruited a young man named David.

I Samuel 16:23 says, “And whenever the harmful spirit from God was upon Saul, David took the lyre and played it with his hand. So Saul was refreshed and was well, and the harmful spirit departed from him” (ESV).

I recently read an article that talked about the neuroscience behind listening to music. The article said a single song can reduce anxiety up to 65 percent. Music has the power to calm our nervous system.

In this age of unprecedented stress in our jobs, swirling politics, chaos in our country, tension online between friends and in communities, we need to develop habits to start our day with our Creator who holds all things in His hands.

My challenge to myself and to you in 2017 is to start each morning with music. I’ve curated a FREE music playlist for my readers to get started. Try listening to just two worship songs each morning. Meditate on the words. Let them lead you into prayer or Bible study.

***

I hear the alarm ring out in the darkness. I lean over to turn it off and press play on my Morning Worship playlist. As my body and my mind are still waking up, the music dances through my room. I take in the truths of the lyrics. I pray. I open my Bible.

It’s a habit now.

This is the way I pivot toward God each morning instead of being sucked into the chaos of social media and the to-do list. This is the way I center myself. When dawn’s light slips into my bedroom window, I am ready for a new day.

Cover yourself with grace and join me.

Ready to start a new morning rhythm and start your day with music? I’d love to send you my specially-curated FREE Morning Worship playlist. You can try it out and then create your own!

Soup’s on: Italian sausage & kale soup

Posted by | food stories, friendship, Inspirational, politics, Recipes, Stories, Struggle/Hardship, transitions, Uncategorized | No Comments

 

This time of year – when colds are plentiful and the air has that memorable chill – all I’m thinking about is SOUP! After perusing many Italian sausage soup recipes, I decided to create my own healthy variety and it was a big hit with my family.

The great thing about this recipe is it uses kale, which you can find fresh at the local farmer’s market this season. Kale has huge health benefits, including being rich in beta-carotene (which protects against diseases of the skin) and a host of vitamins. Kale helps ward off colds and flus during the winter.

This has been a big week for our nation as Donald Trump was inaugurated 45th president. There has been a lot of chaos swirling on the internet and in the world. Now, more than ever, I believe it’s important for us to gather in our homes, our churches, and even in our city’s public spaces to listen well and share our deeper stories. I believe in these challenging times we are all called to the “ministry of presence.” It’s easy to mouth off on Twitter or re-post that article on Facebook that supports our views, but the reality is people are hurting and scared. The most courageous thing we can do is listen. The bravest thing we can do is stand with them.

I’m putting out a soup challenge to you. Make a big pot of soup sometime this month. It could be this recipe below, or another favorite like my Tortilla Soup, or a family recipe of your own. There’s something about the warm comfort of soup that brings a group of people together. You might add a salad or a loaf of crusty bread and butter to melt over top of it. Invite some neighbors, perhaps a family from your kid’s school, or someone else you want to get to know. Step out of your comfort zone and into their story, then come back to tell us about it here or on Instagram.

Soup’s on! #soupsonchallenge
Italian Chicken Sausage and Kale Soup

Ingredients:
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
2 red potatoes, chopped
1 15-oz can crushed tomatoes (or fresh, of course, if they’re in season)
2 garlic cloves, minced
6 cups (cage free, organic) chicken broth
1 teaspoon basil
1 teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon fennel seed
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 package Italian Chicken Sausage, cooked and cut into bite-sized pieces (I use Trader Joe’s sweet Italian sausage or Sicilian Italian sausage if the crowd can take a little spice.)
3 cups thinly sliced kale (green or purple)
1 15-oz can canellini (white) beans
¼ cup butter

½ cup grated parmesan cheese
Garnish: Shaved parmesan cheese

Directions:

  1. Add olive oil to a large stock pot and turn to medium-high heat.
  2. Remove sausage from casing and saute in olive oil. (You can use a potato masher or fork to break up sausage)
  3. Meanwhile, chop all onions, celery and potatoes.
  4. Add the minced garlic to the sausage and saute until fragrant.
  5. Add the chopped veggies and tomatoes to the pot.
  6. Add chicken broth and spices to pot. Bring to a boil.
  7. Reduce heat and add kale and beans to pot. Cook an additional 10 minutes.
  8. Stir in butter and parmesan cheese.
  9. Serve with shaved parmesan cheese for garnish.

Makes approximately 8-10 servings.

*Gluten-free

 

Reduce stress and start your day with music! Let me send you my specially-curated FREE Morning Worship playlist! Join me!

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