Friday, June 23, 2017

Quietness and Trust


This past Wednesday turned into a day where one thing after another (both big and small) went wrong like a snowball effect and made me come a little undone. The day had started out beautifully, but by dinner time I was pacing around, unable to sit or focus, annoyed beyond belief at the the accumulation of stupid stuff that had ruined my day. And worse, I couldn't escape it because where I went, there too was the anger and frustration.

The next day, Thursday morning, I read Isaiah 30 and verse 15 leapt from the page: "This is what the Sovereign LORD, the Holy One of Israel, says: 'In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it.'" Quietness + Trust = Strength, but indeed I would have none of it the day before. How many times has God pointed me to "be still and know" in the past year? To quiet myself and trust in His strength to fight for me, for my day, for my situation, etc. Yet, I continue trying to put my life back together on my own, causing more frustration.

Because Thursday I woke up to a new day, where the problems of yesterday were taken care of in part and the things still there didn't seem like mountains, but the molehills they actually were. Which means my upset of Wednesday accomplished nothing but ruining my mood and my day. If I had slowed, prayed, and trusted, how differently might my day have gone? And how silly to look back and see what upset me. Only one thing of the whole day was worth being upset about and even then, that problem was taken care of in the end.

And so I repent and rest in this truth, urging myself and everyone willing to hear God's call in this verse, to continue learning and living the art of abiding. To be quiet (still) and trust (know) that God's strength will pull us through. But it takes our choosing to stop and challenge the torrent running through our heads with trust in God's strength to be our own. At some point we have to muster the faith to take that trust-powered stand.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Me, Myself, and Lies

Me, Myself, & Lies (for Young Women), by Jennifer Rothschild
Publisher: Harvest House Publishers
Publication date: April 11, 2017 (for Young Women on May 1, 2017)
Category: Christian, nonfiction
Source: I received this galley from NetGalley in consideration for review.

Sometimes a book's title says it all. Me, Myself, & Lies, by Jennifer Rothschild, speaks to the issue of negative self-talk. Lies we tell ourselves about ourselves - things that are essentially untrue. For example, you are not an idiot for forgetting to bring your grocery list to the store - you are human and humans make mistakes. Seems trivial? Science has proven that repeated actions burn new neural pathways in our brains. So years of accusing yourself or calling yourself names on even the "silly" level definitely sets you up to feel like and live like a failure in the end.

Rothschild references a well known quote I have on a plaque in my classroom. Although she quotes it with a different wording, my plaque reads:

Ultimately, the things we think about ourselves will form who we are. Yes, we may be successful in different areas in life, but your success does not define you. Proverbs even states that "For as he thinks within himself, so he is” (23: 7 NASB). To quote Rothschild directly, "In other words, the way you live is a reflection of the way you think."

Rothschild describes our minds as though closets and the thoughts as clothing we can choose to put on and take off. We must choose to take off the negative comments, relabel them with God's truth, and wear the truth instead. For example, you are not an idiot, you are beloved. The edition of this book for young women speaks to specific issues and examples pertaining to teenagers and young adults. Here she provides seven must-have "pieces" needed for your thought closet: daily maintenance, hope, water, memory, chill, perseverance, and heart. Each of the seven pieces is broken down in categories that deal with issues of anger, control, feelings, identity, and many more.

Overall, these books provide step by step guidance in fixing your thought process and guiding your mind onto a better pathway. A great resource for those who have wandered how to apply the well known verse that instructs us to, "take every thought captive to obey Christ" (2 Corinthians 10:5).

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Out of the Box Summer

A couple weeks ago, I finished my first year of my PhD with straight A's. I went straight from finishing my college semester to focusing on finishing my school year as a teacher, which meant grading 86 research papers and teaching one more book in the remaining three weeks of May. Happy to say I finished the last of those papers today and besides another day and half of classes, I am free!

Well, free of my full time job for a few months, but not free from the ebb and flow of life. Next week will lead me straight into planning the rest of my daughter's graduation party: ordering food, making decorations, and putting together picture collages. She's a full time college student next fall and our relationship will begin to change. I don't know how to navigate it all quite yet, but I'm desperate to find a decent balance of parent she still needs and the friend I will eventually fully become.

The party at the end of June will give way to a few days of taking care of our friends' two boys while they are away on a trip. Bringing my two younger kiddos as back up, of course. Triple teaming them ensures we all come out alive and happy! Haha! I am looking forward to getting to know the boys better. The past year has definitely taken a toll on my connections to my close friends' families and I feel I've missed some milestones.

A week later, my husband and I are off to Israel for ten days. This is a trip of a lifetime for more than one reason. First of all, it's a pilgrimage for us - to walk where Jesus walked. I am expecting big things - to come back refreshed, fulfilled, and ready with a new word for my path. Second, my husband and I have never been on a trip together, not even a honeymoon. Although we'll be traveling with a mix of friends and new acquaintances, our kids won't be there and the evenings will be ours to do as we please. I get nervous when my kids take simple trips away, so this will be a challenge even as it is a dream come true. Third, besides Canada, we've never been out of the country. Besides a one hour flight to Chicago, we've never spent any significant amount of time on a plane. This is the Middle East! The flight is nonstop eleven hours one way! This trip tests everything I've said I would never do, because leaving the comfort and familiarity of home challenges me on every level - physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. Yet, even in my most nervous moments, I feel the desperate tug to go. 

Two weeks after returning from Israel, my children and I are meeting friends just outside of Myrtle Beach, SC where we all rented a beach house for the first week of August. My husband just started a new job and they so graciously gave him unpaid time for the Israel trip (which he shouldn't have received), so he won't be going on the beach trip with us. I travelled once before without him, chaperoning our church's youth group to Ocean City, MD. But this feels crazy. The trip was meant to be one more family trip, as our oldest daughter's schedule will change more drastically as a full time college student next year. So in that vein, it makes sense to be upset my husband won't be there. But, this is how in a box I have kept my life: I can't fathom that I am driving my kids all the way down there husband always does the driving. I'm going to have family vacation photos without him in them? I can't fathom that I am spending an actual vacation without my husband...he's my comfort in my out of the box situations.

The week we get back from the beach, I go back to in-service days for teaching, my students come the following week, and my next PhD semester follows the week after that. And the crazy begins again...not that it's stopping over summer to begin with.

I typically don't like this much busyness...I likes gaps of break time between events. But this year is different. These events are all amazing and special in some way. They are all extremely personal to me for different reasons, but also for the same reason - I have to step out of my box and trust God. It's almost like someone planned it out for me - a summer of out of the box living. All of these events usher in endings that also serve as beginnings. One thing is sure - I won't make it to the end of the summer the same person I began it as.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

When a Girl Chooses to Realize...

In November I wrote a post called "Set Apart,"in which I discussed how my journey into my PhD often felt like because I had to give up things, or things changed on me, that I was being set aside. Yet, through prayer, Bible reading, and great encouraging Christian writers (namely Lysa Terkeurst in this case), I knew there was more to it. That I wasn't being set aside, but set apart for God's greater purpose. 

Here, now, with my first full year of my PhD officially wrapped up (and the second semester easier than the first), the feeling of being set aside continues to pop has become much more personal and has been an impossibly hard thing that, mixed with my insecurities and worry, has tried to take me down. Besides feeling left out, there is nothing quite like looking in on something from the outside when you used to be the one on the inside. Especially when you didn't realize quite how on the outside you had become. I know there will never be a time where we are completely free of such trials and challenges, but I'd hoped to have made an inroad on this particular challenge by now.

It's glorious to think that in the midst of heartache, God has a purpose and calling for it. To think that the things we feel left out of may just serve to set us apart so we can prepare for a new purpose. But in the moment it just seems in the world can this feeling mean good things on the horizon?

Today, as I experienced this yet again, in the midst of an otherwise happy day, Lysa TerKeurst's original phrase came to me in the aftermath of feelings:

"There is something wonderfully sacred that happens when a girl chooses to realize that being 'set aside' is actually God's call for her to be 'set apart.' This is true.
To be set aside is to be rejected. To be set apart is to be given an assignment that requires preparation.
Embrace the preparation. And remember you are set apart, beautiful one. Chosen. Adored. And reserved for a high and holy calling."

I've read those words so many times - I have "set apart" tattooed on my arm to remind me for goodness' sake! But let me tell you, you can tattoo yourself into a rainbow of beautiful, catchy phrases and reminders, but it will mean nothing until God sinks it into your heart. 

As I drove away with a wrench in my heart, replaying the hurt, Terkeurst's words running through my mind, it hit me. The key words in TerKeurst's phrase aren't "set apart" - the key words are "when a girl chooses to realize..." 

The set apart piece is God's truth - it is what it is. But I have to choose to believe and trust in that truth to activate it in my life or I will go nowhere with it. If I do not stand up and literally choose to believe and trust, the hurt will continue to hurt and the next time will feel worse, and the time after that will be devastating. And the moment will come again - there's always a next time. Choice is the key - choosing to stop, take a deep breath, state what you know to be true, and pray. The next time, the hurt will be less and it will be easier to choose, and maybe a few times after that the situation will cease to wreck my heart at all...because I will know that I am not set aside, but set apart. 

So today, with the stinging still in my heart, I am choosing to believe I am not set aside, but that I am set apart. I trust that, that place I used to inhabit, but now feel set aside from, will come to serve a fresh and new purpose in the future God is shaping for me. And if not, that I have served that place and people well in the time God chose for me to inhabit it.

He who has eyes to see, let him see and he who has ears to hear, let him hear.

#setapart #higheranddeeper #koinonia #eucharisteo #nothingtolose #everythingtogain

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Rhythms of Rest

Rhythms of Rest: Finding the Spirit of Sabbath in a Busy World, by Shelly Miller
Publisher: Bethany House Publishers
Publication date: October 4, 2016
Category: nonfiction, Christian, motivational, How-to/self-help
Source: I received this galley from NetGalley for consideration of a review.

Rest. Seems it's not easy to come by these days if you have any semblance of a life. Church, family, friends, work, school, fun, hobbies, domestic chores (from major repairs to laundry)...the list just doesn't end. Rest is like an elusive fairy tale, something from a long gone era. Who has time for that, as much as we want to?

Yet, it's a commandment - to observe the Sabbath and keep it holy (Exodus 20:8). This tells me two things: it is possible and it is needed. So how does Sabbath look in the lives of 21st century Christians?

Alongside biblical commandments, that "to-do" list above probably makes it obvious why I took interest in Rhythms of Rest - I know I need it and can't quite figure how to find it. In the past year of readjusting my schedule for schooling, I have come across a few moments where I chose rest over work and it proved beneficial, but I would like to make this a consistent way of life.

Among the first things Miller makes clear is that rest looks differently among individuals. And even for one individual, "rhythms shift while remaining focused on what is most important." As much as most of us love routine for its ease and predictability, your rest is a rhythm that will not necessarily stay the same from one week to the next. Perhaps this is why we find rest so hard to do - it lacks routine. But good news, rest is scientifically proven: "A plethora of studies show that the brain requires alternating periods of structured work followed by unstructured rest in order to maximize function." So right way, we need to forget the guilt factor - there aren't rules, just the need for rest.

Another point Miller touches on is that the idea of Sunday as the one rest day doesn't apply as it did before. Rest is any time of any day in which we take time to relax from our work, at times to spend it in solitude, or with family, friends, or God. Sabbath gives us a break to stop, clear our minds, and relinquish control:

"When the mind is focused entirely a problem, we lose sight of God’s place within it. We pit ourselves against all the details as if the problem is ours to conquer immediately. Anxious and tense, we can wrongly assume that unless we achieve total victory, we will lose the battle and defeat will be our legacy. Sabbath provides space between you and your problems, enabling you to see from God’s perspective, often with surprising results, like a word breaking through your questions about life and awakening you to something more important. God is always near, but we often dismiss his powerful presence in the midst of pain and hardship."

Rest is not just for the purpose of regaining energy to hop back into the busyness - it's for the purpose of recollecting ourselves and going back into our schedules truly refreshed and perhaps even with new Godly perspective. And let's face it - none of us can go nonstop and make it through at our best.

Hopefully, you are convinced that rest is a need at this point - it should be top of your "to-do" list! If so, pick up Miller's book for further discussion on how our rest is met with resistance and even sabotage, but how we can stop trying so hard and maximize our rest.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Called to Speak

Source: New Hope Publishers
Called to Speak: Practical Tips for Women's Ministry Speakers and Teachers, by Edna Ellison and Linda Gilden
Publisher: New Hope Publishers
Publication date: January 2, 2016
Category: nonfiction, Christian, motivational, How-to/self-help
Source: I received this galley from NetGalley for consideration of a review.

Much like the last book I reviewed, Successful Women Speak Differently, Edna Ellison and Linda Gilden's book Called to Speak drew my attention because of life circumstances. As a teacher, I speak to groups of high school students daily, on an academic and personal level. Even though I've been teaching for twelve years, there are always ways to improve. Yea, yea, I know the subtitle talks about women's ministry, but I've often found that similar principles apply across the nuances of an overarching topic. At a basic level, speaking is speaking and teaching is teaching. So, if I had the chance to read a book on the topic, why not take it? And if it is as Gail Godwin said - "Good teaching is one-fourth preparation and three-fourths pure theatre" - then consider this part of my one-fourth preparation. Ha!

Written from a perspective of Christian principals, Called to Speak of course speaks to the need to cover all speaking preparation and activities in prayer and discusses how your relationship with God affects the what, where, when, and how. Each chapter speaks on a broader level as well. One of my favorite topics Ellison and Gilden discuss is purpose and passion. Your purpose is a specific topic, but it is also the fact that you speak for the benefit of your audience, not yourself. You need to have great passion for your topic and the people to whom you speak, or else your message will fall flat. I've heard adults say things like, "I didn't like English in high school, but my teacher made it a lot of fun." I guarantee that teacher was enthusiastic about his/her subject and loved working with teenagers. Passion/enthusiasm makes a difference. Ralph Waldo Emerson speaks to this point well:

"Enthusiasm is one of the most powerful engines of success. When you do a thing, do it with all your might. Put your whole soul into it. Stamp it with your own personality. Be active, be energetic, be enthusiastic and faithful, and you will accomplish your object. Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm."

Besides passion and purpose as my favorite part of the book, other topics of interest discussed are: partnering with people, personality and the public, paths and possibilities, practice and perseverance, and more. I definitely highlighted more than I typically do while reading Called to Speak - great resource for those who have already started down the public speaking path as well as for those headed in that direction.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Successful Women Speak Differently

Successful Women Speak Differently: 9 Habits That Build Confidence, Courage, and Influence, by Valerie Burton
Publisher: Harvest House Publishers
Publication date: November 1, 2016
Category: Christian, nonfiction, motivational, self-help
Source: I received this galley from NetGalley for consideration of a review.

Moving around in a familiar world made new, aka grad school, I found myself drawn to different topics. I watch my professors, how they choose their words and tone of voice, the level of professionalism they choose to maintain among each other and students, etc., and wonder if I would know how to speak, act, or sound if I found myself in a new place, job, school, social setting, or otherwise.

That's what drew me to Successful Women Speak Differently: 9 Habits That Build Confidence, Courage, and Influence, by Valerie Burton. I'm a talker, both verbally and written...I could text all day, write all night, and hang out with people in between. Unfortunately, I also have foot in mouth disease: Thought comes to mind, mouth opens, sound comes out, foot goes in, silence and regret reign. And I've always wondered what I can do on my part to improve the way I speak - whether it be to sound more professional or just to be more considerate.

Successful Women Speak Differently, shows how clear communication makes the difference in influence you have and favor you gain. A few tips given in the summary accurately state the main purpose of this book:
  * recognize the nuances in speech that can mean the difference between success and failure
  * increase your influence by changing what you think and say in critical moments
  * speak accurately about yourself so you don't sabotage your most meaningful goals
  * boost your confidence by making simple tweaks to your everyday speech

Based on Christian principles, Burton's book gives great explanation and examples of how words, tone of voice, and body language play more into how others read you than you know. For example, when I am personally invested in a topic, my voice tends to become passionately elevated - aka unnecessarily loud. My family points this out to me in various ways, funny and serious, but being my family, I ignore their comments. However, Burton has a section about volume of speech presenting a person in different ways in different situations, loud not being good most of the time. Open mouth, insert foot. Lesson learned. And hopefully less tasting of feet in my future.