Friday, March 31, 2017

Haiti: The Unexpected

It's been 3 weeks since returning from our third trip to Haiti. 

By now, I've usually blogged, or journaled my thoughts about the trip because it helps me to process through my thoughts and emotions. 
In some ways returning home gets easier every time. In other ways. It gets harder. 

My love for Haiti, and the people there, grows each time I return. I miss them when I'm not there. I cherish every moment with them when I am there. Leaving can be tough, and at the same time a relief. Coming home is bitter-sweet. The entire process of going to Haiti, being in Haiti, and returning from Haiti has proven to be a blend of emotions. 

This trip was the most difficult of the ones we have taken, for a whole lot of reasons. We had several problems throughout our trip, but through it all we knew that God was in control, and we tried to take each opportunity to remember that this was HIS trip and not ours. 
I have some "technical" posts I want to write, detailing our trip and what we did while we were there, but for today, I'll keep it a bit more about how I've been feeling, and thinking, since returning home. 

Haiti is the first place I've ever traveled for a missions trip (domestically or internationally). I honestly can't remember exactly what I was expecting before my foot stepped off that plane in Port-Au-Prince, but I'm certain it hasn't at all been what I had originally thought it was going to be.

I knew within the first hour of being in Haiti that I was never going to be the same. 
I knew by the time I returned that I was committed to serving Haiti wherever God would find a place for me, and I prayed it would be with Voice of Compassion (the non-profit that I had gone to Haiti with). 
I knew after returning home that the people I had met in that first trip would never leave my heart and that they would always be with me, whether I would ever see them again or not. 

What I didn't realize on my way to Haiti that first time, was that Haiti was about to become a part of me. Forever. And that God was going to use Haiti to do a major work in my life and in my heart. 

From that very first visit, God began knitting my heart with Haiti and the people there, and that work continues even now. There was a lot about Haiti, myself, and the people that I expected that first trip. But there was a whole lot more that I wasn't. So this post is about all the things I didn't expect. 

I never expected to love the people in Haiti the way I do. I knew I would care for them. I expected for the students, their families, and the orphans that we were going to be working with to touch my heart. I expected to meet one or two kids that I couldn't get out of my head. I expected to love Pastor Lavaud, because anyone I know that knows him, loves him. So I expected to care. I didn't expect to walk away after only a week with true Christ-centered friendships and a heart for not only "the people of Haiti" but the individuals I now knew by name; people that I now considered my friends, people that,  (by the world's standards) I "barely knew" but that I genuinely loved.  

I never expected to connect with the people there the way that I have. I think it's partly this connection that explains the unexpected love I have felt. I could go on-and-on about the people I've met in Haiti, namely the believers, who despite a language barrier, I have connected with on a level that I rarely experience here in the U.S. 
It's difficult to explain, but it's as if the language barrier almost helps us to connect with the each other in a way that isn't possible otherwise. It forces us to connect based on other things that unite us, like our love for Jesus. 

Honestly, I haven't had the pleasure of sitting and talking with most of my dear Haitian friends for hours at a time, getting to know their life stories, but I have looked into their eyes and shared moments of understanding, moments of joy, moments of gratefulness, and moments of deep sorrow. And in some of the most emotional of moments, we didn't have to come up with something special or meaningful to say with our words, we were given the opportunity to communicate, rather, with our eyes, our hearts, and our actions. 

I've been able to look at them, and they me, and actually see them, and to feel as though I've truly been seen. It isn't always comfortable (for me at least). It can feel exposing, and vulnerable. 
And in some ways, I believe it's the way that God intends for us to see one another. It's freeing. It's humbling. And it's something that forms a bond I wasn't expecting. 

I never expected to feel sorry for myself. 
I'm not sure if I'm supposed to admit this or not, but if I'm being honest I would tell you that I expected to "feel sorry" for the people in Haiti. Not only did I expect it, I guess I thought that's what I should feel. So I certainly never expected to walk away from my last visit, actually feeling "sorry" for myself and people here in America. 

It is extremely difficult to explain what I mean, especially without coming across as judgmental (and I certainly don't mean it that way), but I'm going to try nonetheless. 
There is something about the believers in Haiti that is very inviting, something I couldn't place right away, but that I knew I wanted for myself. 

I saw it first in the face of the mother of one of our sponsored students during a home visit. We were speaking through a translator, but we managed to keep eye contact most of our conversation. 
This woman, was.... inviting. I couldn't place what it was that made me like her so much and to feel at home by just being near her. 
She was joyful. She was grateful. She was welcoming and humble, but also confident and secure. She had so little, and yet she opened up what she had to us. 

I found out later, after talking to Pastor Lavaud that night at dinner, the woman (and her family) were members of the church, both her and her husband actually sing in the choir, and she has a great love for the Lord. I remember thinking, "Well, that explains it." 

There is a simplicity of life in Haiti that no matter what changes I were to make here in America, I could never replicate here. There are many parts of their culture that are appealing to me (and many parts that are not), but what I'm really hungry for is the "thing" that the Christians there have, that we in the church of America, are often lacking. Despite their financial poverty there is a spiritual richness there among the believers that I would trade for in an instant! 

Their complete dependence on God produces a genuine faith, a faith that I have struggled with most of my Christian walk. Their joy in the Lord is genuine, real, and contagious.  Their love and generosity toward one another (even when they have little to give) is tangible. They share what little they do have with those around them. 
They seem to live their lives with their hands "wide open" fully ready to give to the Lord all that He asks. Their grasp of life and it's frailty far succeeds anything we can comprehend here, and because of that, you don't see them fighting for control over the uncontrollable. There is not this sense of striving and struggle with the Lord that we so often have here in America. 
The life of the Haitians is a difficult one. The church there is far from perfect (as it is everywhere in the world). They are not perfect Christians. I am certain that they have their own list of struggles, but as a Christian American, their lifestyle and the faith and strength of character it produces in them are very desirable, and something that, I wish I had. I wish we all had. 

I never expected to think about Haiti as much as I do. 
I expected to go to Haiti and to return thinking about my trip and all that I saw and experienced there. I didn't expect to think about Haiti to the extent that I do. 
I now volunteer with Voice of Compassion helping to coordinate the Student and Orphan Sponsorship programs, so just in the work that I do, I'm constantly looking at, learning about and working with pictures and profiles of the students, their families and the orphans in Hinche; but even beyond that, I can't remember a day that has passed that I'm not thinking and praying for Haiti and the people there in one way or another. 

My prayer list, as it now should be, is full of requests for Haiti and the people I know there. But even throughout the day, a thought of Haiti will jump up at the most random of moments, like: 
When I turn on hot water, 
or get a clean glass of water. 
When I smell garbage burning. 
When I hear a horn honking. 
When I eat a mango, an avocado,  
or when I drink a coke. 
When I hear children singing. 
When I pass a playground that is hardly being used. 
When I hear music being played too loudly on someone's speakers. 
When I see the color orange. 
When I look up to the sky and see the stars. 
I don't think of Haiti every time I experience one of these things, but my memories and affections for Haiti seem to always be on the cusps of my thoughts and they can be triggered (happily) at the most unexpected moments. 

I never expected to grieve over Haiti the way I do. 
Like I mentioned before, I expected to "feel sorry" for Haiti, but thats not what I feel, or at least that's not how I would describe it. The word I would use is actually more grief. 
I grieve over the history of oppression and slavery that has seemed to dominate this country (and still does). Child slavery, in particular, is a major problem in Haiti. 
I grieve over the injustices of corrupt leadership at nearly every level, and not only that it exists but that it has come to be expected.

I am grieved by the reality that many parents experience a loss of a child, and/or are often faced with decisions as parents that we cannot fathom here in America. There are many parents there that feel their only option is to give up their child to an orphanage (or worse) in hopes of a better life for that child, because of the inability to provide for their basic needs. 
I am grieved by the consistent lack of basic needs for the majority of the people - food, clothing, water, health care, medicine, education, etc. - when so many of these things have been given and provided through humanitarian relief efforts, and yet because of poor planning and corruption they have seemed to do little good. 
I am grieved that in many ways, Haiti just can't seem to "catch a break" - natural disasters, poor leadership, lack of education and resources, and spiritual bondage have all seemed to help create a cycle of struggle for the people in Haiti that is difficult to accept. 

I am grieved by the reality that many orphanages there are ran as a business, rather than a loving environment for the world's "least of these". 
I am grieved by the reality of voodoo and the darkness, pain, false-hope, suffering and struggle that it produces. The primary battle taking place in Haiti (and everywhere in the world) is not against flesh and blood but in the spiritual, and Haiti's open support of voodoo is causing greater harm than perhaps any other source. 
I long for Haiti to be set free. 

Lastly, I didn't expect for God to change me the way that He has through my experiences in Haiti. 
I mean, I expected Him to change me. I wanted Him to change me. But I didn't expect it to be in the ways that it has. 

I went expecting that my eyes would be open to poverty. Whereas what I really found was that my eyes were opened to spiritual wealth and the global Church in a way that I hadn't realized even was possible. 
I don't ever want to go back to seeing God, the Church, and the world the way I saw it before. 

Voice of Compassion's primary purpose isn't to bring some great relief to "fix" the financial problems in Haiti (though they do that as best they can with the gifts that God has given them), their primary purpose is to partner with long term missionaries and believers in other parts of the world, to come along side them, to encourage and support them in the work that they are already doing there. VOC may come for a week or two a year, but the people we are working with spend every day of their lives there.

I knew I was going to Haiti to support and encourage those who were already there, and I walked away after spending a week with Pastor Lavaud and many from his church encouraged and built up. God certainly uses his (global) Church to build and grow one another, and in some ways I feel as though I walked away with the best end of that deal! 

Through watching the believers that I've met there pouring out their lives for the sake of the gospel where they are, I had to ask myself, is this what my life looks like where God has me? I came back from Haiti motivated to change, and I pray even now that God keeps that conviction and challenge alive in my heart.

Before hitting the "publish" button, I just want to be sure to clarify that I by no means think that what I am feeling, thinking or processing through is meant to be everyone's journey. God has chosen to use Haiti in my heart and life. I would assume for most people, Haiti isn't necessarily the tool God will use in their heart. I do, however, believe God has called (ahem, commanded) all of us to serve others through missional-gospel centered living, and that won't mean Haiti (or even international missions) for everyone. But it will mean something. We are all called to be sharing the gospel with others, to be serving the "least of these" both here and around the world, and standing up to advocate for and fight for the rights of those who are unable to do so for themselves. This doesn't mean we will all travel around the world to do the actual "work", but as believers, we should all be supporting (with our prayers, talents, and/or finances) the work that others are doing here at home and around the globe. 
I encourage you to find missional work to plug into, in fact, I would even encourage you to find more than one. If any of you would like to hear more about Voice of Compassion and the work that they are doing, I would be more than happy to talk with you about it... though I'll warn you, you may get more than you bargained for, some tell me I'm a little "wordy"!  :) 

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

What I've Been Reading {2017} Book List

One of the goals I set for myself this year is to read more. 
I love reading, and the older I get I realize what a blessing it is to actually enjoy and learn from reading. 
We also homeschool and we read aloud a lot together as a part of our school, both fiction and non fiction. Some of the best book discussions I've ever had have been with my kids, and that's just.... awesome. 
In the past, for my personal reading time, I've spent a lot more time reading non-fiction than fiction. I read a lot of homeschool books, christian/Bible based books, books on speech and learning struggles, and other topical books on things that our family is into (Yes, I've actually ready several books on chicken coops). I plan on continuing to read these types of books (of course) but I really wanted to start reading more GOOD fiction. 
A few of my closest friends and I started a book club last year and I think that is really at the foundation of what has gotten me back into reading fiction for myself. 

All of that being said..... I plan on posting more often about the books that I've been reading. Mostly just for my personal records (I can't tell you how many times I've gone back to my own reading lists to find the name of a book). 

So without further delay.... Books I've read so far this year. 


"The Kitchen House" by Kathleen Grissom 
Goodreads Rating = 4.17/5 
My Rating = 8.5/10 
Book Club Selection for January 

Honestly, my rating is probably higher for this book, it's up at the top of my list for favorites, but I struggle with commitment issues, hence, the 8.5 rating. 
I LOVED this book. I mean, loved. It's set in the late 1700s early 1800s in the south. Pre-civil war (for those of you that aren't good with dates). 
Dealing with issues of slavery, family bonds, love, survival, and life on a plantation. I was struck once again by the resolve of  the slaves, the acceptance of their life, and yet their ability to persevere, love fully, endure and to continue, regardless of circumstances, to work hard and push through. 
This was not a fairy tale book, in any sense. It was tough. It was truthful. It wasn't always pretty. But it was also heart-warming at parts. It was eye-opening and a reminder about how far we can stray from the laws of the Bible (and obvious human ethics) and yet think we have the right to do so. 
This was one I could not put down, and well worth reading! 

"The Help" by Kathryn Stockett 
Goodread Rating = 4.45/5 
My Rating = 7.5/10 

I read this book after hearing about how it was similar to "The Kitchen House". It was set in the 60s (I believe) and deals with civil rights issues. I feel like most everyone has either read the book or seen the movie but me. I genuinely enjoyed it. It wasn't as "heavy" as "The Kitchen House" but dealt with some pretty real and tough issues. I can see why it was so well received, and then turned into the movie. Like with most books, I'm glad I read the book before I saw the movie, because the book was much better and offered much more insight and detail. I appreciated that there was some humor in this book, even in dealing with the heaviness of the reality of that time. You couldn't help but fall in love with the characters. I mean. Seriously. I wish they were real, and that they were my friends. 

"Small Great Things" by Jodi Picoult 
Goodread Rating = 4.38/5
My Rating = 8.75/10 

I loved this book. The timing was impeccable and "coincidental" having read so many books dealing with race in America. I genuinely loved that the perspective of this book came from a thought-she-wasn't-racist white woman, a hard-working-middle-class black woman, and a white supremacist. The book (as quickly as I can describe it) is about a black nurse on trial for murdering a baby that she had been commanded to not touch (because of her race). Painful, real, raw, eye-opening on so many levels. I always love reading the author's notes and I love the amount of time Picoult put in to studying a subject that was so sensitive and important to our time. 

"Atonement Child" by Francine Rivers 
Goodreads Rating = 4.26/5
My Rating = 6/10 

This was a good book. I just didn't feel like it was a GREAT book, parts of the book seemed somewhat predictable to me. A story about a young girl with, what looks to be, a perfect life in front of her. She's attending Bible college, engaged to a good-looking promising young man, but one night on her way home from work she's raped, and everything changes. She finds out months later that she is pregnant, soon after she's asked to leave the Bible college, and decides to move back in with her parents, where life continues to seem to unravel. I feel like Rivers did a great job handling some difficult topics. Overall, I'm very appreciative of some of the overarching biblical themes/lessons held throughout the book, like that God is sovereign AND good. I'm a big Rivers fan, so that's probably why I rated the book as high as I did. I felt like parts of the story really drug on. I also found parts of the book a little unrealistic. 

"Truly, Madly, Guilty" by Liane Moriarty 
Goodreads Rating = 3.55/5 
My Rating = 2/10 

Would not recommend this book in the slightest. So so so slow. I could NOT get into this book. If it wasn't for my personality of having to finish things, and see them through, there is no way I would have finished this book. Though I will tell you I skipped about 70 pages at one point, and no kidding, didn't seem to miss anything of useful/crucial value to the story. 
I hate to give an outright negative review of a book, honestly, but with so many good books out there.... I have to recommend avoiding this one. 

Young Adult Fiction 

"Wolf Hollow" by Lauren Wolk 
Goodreads Rating = 4.31/5 
My Rating = 8/10 

We read this book as a read aloud for school. We all genuinely enjoyed it. Based after World War 2 (I believe), it reminds me a little of "Little House in the Prairie" without nearly the overly-wordy detail. The kids all enjoy it and I don't think I read it once without them asking me to "read another chapter".  The children loved the suspense of the book, and trying to figure out "who did what" - we always seem to have multiple perspectives and opinions, which makes for great discussion. 
Based in Pennsylvania, it's told from the perspective of a young girl named Annabelle who lives in a quiet town, until Betty shows up, a girl who, from my perspective, is some type of socio/psycopath who takes pleasure in the pain of others. Betty's presence quickly causes Annabelle's (and the entire towns) world to turn upside down. 
My kids and I would certainly recommend this book. 

"The Inquisitors Tale" by Adam Gidwitz 
Goodreads Rating = 4.23/5
My Rating = 3.5/10 

Based in the middle ages about three unlikely (and outcast) children, a giant monk, a small jewish boy, and a peasant girl, becoming friends and joining together on a mission (against the king) that puts their lives in danger. I read this book because Alexa had wanted to read it and I wasn't sure if it would be age-appropriate for her. Throughout most of the book, I was fairly certain I would let her read it. There were a few things that I knew I would want to discuss with her (as you can imagine, the catholic church, saints, "miracles", and the middle ages would provoke a lot of much needed discussion) but nothing that I saw as a "deal breaker". (Side note: I tend to be a parent that wants to discuss these things rather than avoid them, and I can see why other parents would choose a different approach at certain ages and with certain children). 
However, once I got to the end of the book, I did change my mind (without giving too much away) because there are some biblical characters/stories that are brought up at the end as a part of the story..... I tend to avoid writing that attempts to mix biblical history/characters with a fiction story, especially for the kids. I find it to be confusing at this age, and with so many other good options available, I would rather avoid it. 


"The Broken Way" by Ann Voskamp 
Goodreads Rating = 4.46/5 
My Rating = 7/10 

I loved the overall message of the book, but I struggled even more with this book than I did with 1000 Gifts with the poetic writing style of Voskamp. Some of the crucial points she is attempting to convey are hard to dig out of the muck of her musical tone. In many instances I find her writing to be beautiful, but 275 pages worth ended up being a lot for me. 
The book is about sacrifice, and living out of our brokeness, living broken and poured out for the world around us the way the Jesus was an example to us all. True love does not happen without pain and suffering - it's sacrificial by nature. While, I didn't see anything in her writing that is directly heretical, I know many people complain about some of the liberties she takes with scriptures, and I can kind of see their points, but at the same time, the over-arching message was certainly in line with what scripture teaches. 

"Nothing to Prove" by Jennie Allen 
Goodreads Rating = 4.55/5 
My Rating = 8.5/10 

I was genuinely encouraged by this book. Easy to read. Well organized. Powerful message. 
Dealing with the struggle of constantly trying to prove yourself and measure up to people, is one that I have (in spades). and no as I begin to serve in positions of leadership this struggle can feel debilitating at times. Using stories from the book of John Jennie Allen walks through the clear messages of the Bible that while we are not enough, Jesus is, and the freedom that comes from truly understanding this. 
Some of my favorite quotes: 
"We are not defined by our worst or our best: we are defined by our God." 
"It's not my curse that I believe I am not enough; it's my sin that I keep trying to be." 
"When we hide, we diminish ourselves, we diminish our worth, we diminish our belief in God." 
Allen's writing is practical, real, and biblical. I love how honest she is lovingly pointing out some of our (those in the church) ongoing mistakes - like distracting ourself with entertainment (binge watching TV anyone?), distracting ourselves with the work of the mission rather than God himself, allowing our identity to be defined by lies, isolating ourselves from other believers, and more. 
I highly recommend this book. 

Friday, December 16, 2016

Book List 2016

As the end of the year approaches, it always brings about reflection. Like most years, a lot has seemed to happen this year. Some good. Some bad. Some great. Some really tough. 

Books have always been a tool that God has used in my life to help teach me, guide me, bring me some enjoyment and even a little comfort at times. So as I was reflecting back over the year, I couldn't help but thinking of some of the great books that I read throughout the year, as well.

For the first time ever, I'm a part of a book club, and I think I found another "home away from home" for myself. I love our little group so much. I'm blessed that all the members of the book club just so happen to also be my closest friends.  

It's been a few years since I've even attempted a "book list" but I think it's time. Reading is in one of my top "favorite things to do.... ever" and I love sharing what I'm reading. I hope that you can browse through some of these titles and find a few good ones to tuck away for yourself. 

I'm really hoping that next year I could possibly start posting my "monthly reading list" instead of a yearly one. 


The Blessing of Humility by Jerry Bridges 
I actually went through this book with a small group of women, and am glad that I did. I think that the discussion and insight of others has made this book even better (if that's possible). 
Based on the Beatitudes, Bridges teaches the importance and blessings of humility (see what I did there) for christians. He makes the argument (and well I think) that the beatitudes are to teaching humility what 1 Corinthians 13 is to teaching about love. This book was well written, convicting and yet full of grace and hope. I've read several of Bridges books and have loved them all, this book is no exception.

Shes's Got Issues by Nicole Eunice
I heard about this book while listening to a radio program (possibly family life today). Anyhow, this book goes through the top five issues of women: control, insecurity, comparisons, fear, and anger. This book was so helpful to me. There wasn't a single chapter that I didn't at least somewhat relate to, and truthfully A LOT relate to. I would love to go through this book again, maybe with a small group of ladies.

Giddy-Up Eunice by Sophie Hudson 
A much needed book for the church, and particularly women, today. Sophie is hilarious, which I love, but I can see how it may be tough for some readers to keep up with her message as well as her funny and even sarcastic banter. Again, I LOVED it, if anything it made me read the book faster and more voraciously, but I realize it may not be for everyone. This book is on the biblical importance of mentoring relationships between women in the church. She uses the relationships of Elizabeth & Mary, Naomi & Ruth, and Eunice & Lois as examples to what these relationships might look like. This book has reignited an already held passion for the importance of mentoring/deep friendships between women of all ages.  Not the most "theological" book of all time, but certainly well founded on biblical principles. A good read! 

Adopted for Life by Russel Moore 
Fantastic book!! I am learning so much about the theology of adoption, the Biblical definition of adoption, heart issues surrounding adoption, information about orphans and most importantly I am seeing a glimpse of the heart of God towards us, his adopted children. This book is not just for those interested in adoption or supporting those who are - it's for EVERYONE. If you want to better understand your salvation and God's heart towards you, I would recommend this book. 

Steadfast Love by Lauren Chandler 
Quickly moving to one of my favorite reads. Of all time. I have always loved Pastor Matt Chandler and have been listening to him since.... forever, and now I love his wife Lauren just as much! This book is all about placing our security and hope in the Lord rather than the many idols we find all around us. It has been one of the most effective books I have read on helping me work through some of my anxieties and fears. It's been a little bit of a slow read for me only because it's one that I've had to process through bit by bit. 

No Longer a Slumdog by K.P. Yohnannon 
I got this book (for free) at least a year ago and had forgotten about it until recently when I happened to catch a glimpse of it as I was walking by our bookshelf and decided to picked it up. An hour later, I was still reading. Technically speaking it's an easy read. Content wise.... I have cried through most of it. Focused primarily on the terrible living conditions of millions of people leaving in India, it forces you to come face to face with the fact that there is so much work to be done and that God has called us to be a part of it. Someway. Somehow. This book has driven me to my knees to pray for the people in India, and to find out if God has a part for me to play in bringing glory to His name in that place. 

The Hole in Our Holiness by Kevin DeYoung 
Such. A. Good. Book. A must read for any Christian. Any where. The disconnect in our hearts and minds regarding the holiness of God, our sin and our purpose is (in most cases) HuGe. We need to pray and ask God to soften our hearts to seeing the severity of our sin and start taking the necessary self-disciplines seriously. DeYoung does a great job at biblically walking us through this, while reminding us of God's amazing grace. I actually started this group with our small group but we haven't actually met in a while so I had to finish it myself, I enjoyed it so much. 

Women of the Word by Jen Wilkin 
This is a very practical and applicable book for women on how to read and study and use the Word of God. We are sadly living during in a time in the church when books like this one are not read and applied often enough. I will be reading this book again. 

The Mingling of Souls by Matt Chandler 
A book on marriage, written for both marrieds and singles, using the Song of Solomon as a guide. 
Powerful. Good. 
Haven't actually picked it up in a while because I've started more books than I should have, and I may have actually forgotten about this one (~disappointing~). But now that I'm looking at it again, I remember how great it is, and I plan on finishing it. 

Orphanology by Tony Merida and Rick Morton
Another book I cried through parts of. Not just for those considering adoption. Definitely for those who call themselves Christian and take following the word of God seriously. We are commanded to defend and take care of widows and orphans and that can look very different in every family. There is an orphan epidemic in the world, we don't have the luxury of closing our eyes to this problem. This book provides chapter-after-chapter of practical ways individuals and churches can work towards living out James 1:27 --- please, take the time to read this book. 

Screens and Teens by Kathy Koch 
This book is not one that I needed so much for my kids (yet) but for myself. Sometimes I don't realize how attached to my phone I am and one day, I'll have certain expectations of my children, and I want to set a good example now. It's title suggest it's heard for parents of teens, but it's not necessarily. It's really applicable to anyone with a cell-phone or computer. 
This book does a good job of not simply bashing technology but showing the need for moderation and control - she talks a lot about tech-free times and areas to protect that which is sacred in our lives. 
The book goes through common lies that technology causes/encourages us to believe. I tend to be an overly-logical person so there were times that I was a bit put-out only because I was like "Teenagers (and all people) have always believed that lie." However, that's me being nit-picky because regardless of the cause the lie still exists and technology absolutely does play into the common lies we've all always believed. 
There wasn't anything particularly eye-opening or mind-blowing about the book, but it did remind me of some of the things I tend to ignore or overlook. 

Missional Motherhood by Gloria Furman 
Honestly, it took me a while to get through this book. It was good enough... it just.... I don't know, never caught my attention. Maybe it was because it was stuff I'd already heard a bunch of times before. Then again, there are lots of books I could say that about and yet I still loved them and needed to hear the truth being preached again and again. But this book, I found a little more boring and maybe less engaging. I really wanted to enjoy it because I had read several good reviews. So it may have just been me, or maybe I was trying to read it at a bad time.... I don't know. 

I usually use several devotionals throughout the year but this year I stuck to two, as I was also working on reading through the OT one time through and the New Testament and Psalms two times, in the year, and that took up the majority of my quiet time in the morning. Doesn't get much better than the straight up WORD OF GOD.

I usually try to read through the Bible every other year, and on the off year will work on reading a little more in-depthly smaller portions of scripture. 
I love the idea of reading through the Bible in the year, but I have to be careful because sometimes if can become a checklist item and I'll forget to actually meditate and savor the Word the way I should. 

The two devotionals I turned to throughout the year were 

Good. I didn't like the translation of the Bible he used, but the devotions were short and included a prayer which I really liked. 

Morning & Evening by Charles Spurgeon 
My go-to devotional every year for the past 3 years. I LOVE this devotional. I like that there are two entries, though I usually read them both in the morning. Love Spurgeon. 

Based on a True Story
A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park about two different 11 year olds living in Sudan at two different times, one in the 90s and the other in 2008. It's a small but powerful book. I ended up reading it in less than an hour and a half. LOVE. A must read. 


The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh
I enjoyed this book. My favorite part was that the author actually wove in the victorian language of flowers, and I felt like I learned a lot - truthfully, I had no idea about the language of flowers, and on the off chance that you don't either.... In victorian times, the language of flowers was used to communicate (certain flowers held certain meanings and people would send them as messages to one another). Using the story of a girl who lived her entire life in the foster-care system and is now an adult who struggles making relational connections, the language of flowers is a deep and touching story.
I had a hard time relating to the main character, which I think is why I didn't "love" the book, but in saying that, I would recommend it, for sure.

Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers 
Love. Love. Love.
I've read this book before (more than once) and it was as good the second and third and fourth time around as it was the first. I am fairly sure this book will remain my favorite fiction title for many many years to come. A beautiful portrait of the gospel, true love and forgiveness (of others and self). Highly recommend. 

My opinion on this book was.... ehhh. It wasn't bad it wasn't stellar. Overall, fiction books of this type of content tend to worry me as far as the theology that they may encourage. Pros: it was a "clean" book, not something I would be worried about my kids picking up. It was an easy read, finished it pretty quickly. Wouldn't necessarily recommend it. 

Wonder by R.J. Palacio 
Another book that I had picked up for Treyton but started skimming it before I actually gave it to him to read. Thought it looked great. Let him read it and then he told me I HAD. TO. READ. IT. He said it was one of his favorite books "Of. All. Time." (and I quote). It took me only a few days to read it. So so good. I cried. I'm still quoting parts of it to my kids (namely the mantra "It's better to be kind that right."). If you're looking for a good book for you or for your young man or woman. Look no further.

The Giver by Lois Lowry
I read this one as a read-aloud with the kids. We read several this year, and many of them we thoroughly enjoyed but this one definitely stuck with us. The kids and I are still talking about it.
When I first started it, I thought, oh great, another story about another utopian society, but the reality is, there's a reason why there is so many of these type of stories out there.... they're intriguing and really make you think. Is peace worth the loss of love and choice?
I love that the kids loved it as much as I did and I'm very grateful for the in-depth discussion we were able to have which included discussion on: the importance of memories, euthanasia/assisted suicide, the importance of choice (even when it's wrong), what a perfectly peaceful society might actually be like, would we want it, and at what cost, and best of all we discussed the reality that we have the hope of heaven and perfect peace which has been bought by the blood of Jesus and will not cost us true love, choice or hope.

The Pecan Man by Cassie Dandridge Selleck
I was surprised how small this book was when I got it. I read it in 2 or 3 hours one afternoon, while my laundry sat nearby waiting to be folded. I hadn't mean to start reading it, I had just picked it up and started reading the first couple of pages and the next thing I knew..... and hour had passed and the book "had" me. This book, set in the south eastern United States (Georgia or Florida, I think) is written in the first person as a recollection, or confession rather of a now old woman who knows the true story of a murder that happened in 1976. A murder that an innocent homeless black man paid the price for. I started reading just "knowing" how I was going to feel about the book, and as I turned each page I found myself more and more unsure. Proof that life is not black-and-white, I would absolutely recommend this book (and already have to several people :))!

Crossing Oceans by Gina Holmes
Not going to lie, I cried through most of this book. And not just tears. I mean. UG-lee. Cry. I felt an immediate connection to the main character, and through the ups and downs that she faced, I felt like I too was facing them. Such. A. Good. Book. Dealing with life, loss, death, dysfunctional family drama, true love, love lost, motherhood and so much more. I loved every minute of this book and will definitely be reading it again!

The Prayer Box by Lisa Wingate
Loved. Read this book in like a week. I was a little slow to make connections that I think others made a little sooner, but that's fine by me. Well written. Fun to read. Made me think. Also made me want to get better at journalling :) 

Thursday, June 23, 2016

The Steadfast Love of the Lord

Today in my Bible reading, I came across several verses on the steadfast love of God. A few minutes later, as I was doing my daily browse of Facebook, I saw that a friend of mine had posted yet another verse on the steadfast love of God. 

The Lord clearly had a message for me this morning, and without going into a really long explanation of the details, let's suffice it to say that I needed to hear these words today. And of course, He knew that.

Reminders are good. 

God is faithful. 

I don't know where you all find yourself today, and it doesn't really matter, whether you're in a valley or enjoying the mountain peaks of life, God's steadfast love will never change. 

I pray that you all are as encouraged by these verses as I was today. 

Isaiah 54:8
"In overflowing anger for a moment I hid my face from you, but with everlasting love I will have compassion on you" says the Lord, your redeemer.

Isaiah 54:10 (2 verses later) 
"For the mountains may depart and the hills be removed but my steadfast love shall not depart from you and my covenant of peace shall not be removed" says the Lord, who has compassion on you." 

Psalm 119:64 
"The earth, O Lord, is full of your steadfast love, teach me your statutes." 

Psalm 119:41 
"Let your steadfast love come to me, O Lord, your salvation according to your promises." 

Psalm 63:3 
"Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you." 

Psalm 136:1 
"Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good, for His steadfast love endures forever." 

Psalm 25:10 
"All the paths of the LORD are steadfast love and faithfulness, for those who keep His covenant and His testimonies." 

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

The Lies of the Rabble

One of my favorite things about reading and studying the Word of God, besides getting to know my Creator and Savior better, is the "coincidences" that so often seem to happen when you hear or read something in one place and than a day or two or maybe even a week later you read something similar to what the Lord was already speaking to you in a different place. Does that make any sense at all? 

I commend you all for trying to follow me through this maze I call a train of thought.  
Truly, you're all amazing! 

I digress. 

What I mean is, those times when you seem to hear a "random" scripture or nugget from the Lord and then a little while later you hear the same "random" verse or idea. It's creepy awesome and it's one of my favorite things about how the Lord works through His word. 

This happened to me recently. I was reading in Lauren Chandler's "Steadfast Love" and she referenced the story in Numbers 11 where the Israelites began complaining about eating manna and how they longed for meat. 

A few days later, I read the same portion of scripture in my Bible reading..... so I stopped, I said a little prayer and I started reading again. Slower this time. More intentionally. 

I encourage you to read the entire account. It's a truly remarkable story and one that, if we're honest with ourselves may expose a few blindspots in our hearts and lives. 

Numbers 11:4 "Now the rabble that was among them had a strong craving. And the people of Israel also wept again and said, 'Oh that we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt that cost nothing." 

According to Chandler, the rabble were those Egyptians who (going against God's will) were intermarried into the Israelite nation while they were still in Egypt. 

The Israelite's craving was about far more than just food - it was ultimately a desire for the pleasures (the choicest parts) and conveniences of Egypt

Egypt. The place of their greatest deepest bondage. The home of their slavery. 

How could anyone want to go back to that? 

It seems like such a ridiculous thing to say, and yet, it isn't all that different from what we do in our own lives. 
We all have a tendency to lie to ourselves about our past, especially when the present isn't what we think we want. We question God's goodness and believe lies about what He has set us free from. 

"The rabble" within us, is the part of us we've given over to things other than God. The part of us we "hold back" from complete surrender to Him. When we're honest, we all know we have our own form of "rabble" in the deep parts of our hearts. Our feeble attempts to keep the rabble under control rarely works, yet we continue to act like we control "it" and that it doesn't control us, but eventually the truth that the rabble is uncontrollable comes into full light when it rears its ugly head and demands its own way. 

In verse 10 we're told the people were literally standing in the doors of their tents, weeping.
An adult-sized, communal, temper-tantrum! 

While it may not look the same, I'm guilty of this same thing. Pitching my own version of a fit when life doesn't go my way. It may not always be verbal, but it's almost always obvious. 

The Lord ends up (for good reason) punishing the people (v. 18-23) and He tells them exactly why (v.20) "because you have rejected the Lord who is among you and have wept before Him saying 'Why did we come out of Egypt?'" 

"Because you have rejected the Lord."  

That's exactly what we're doing when we complain and grumble about the places God has brought us to and blessings that God has provided for us. 

The grass always seems greener. 

When will we learn it is better to be in the dessert eating manna with the presence of God, than filling our "bellies" with the "choicest" foods the world has to offer all the while living in bondage? 

We have to refuse to hear and believe the lies. The lies that tell us bondage is worth it, that the sin and compromise "cost nothing"! That we deserve whatever we want even when it's not what we need. 

Rejecting God is the opposite of trusting Him.

If He's brought you to the dessert He has a good reason, trust Him to provide for you to get you through. 

The dessert isn't easy, it isn't always pretty, but God is there, and He's speaking (maybe for the first time in nearly 400 years) He's providing, He's leading. Your job is to trust, to be grateful and to follow. 

In my Bible reading this morning, I was brought to Psalm 66, I think it applies beautifully to what we've been seeing in Numbers, it says in verses 8-12

"Bless our God, O peoples;
let the sound of His praise be heard,
who has kept our soul among the living 
and has not let your feet slip. 
For you, O God, have tested us;
you have tried us as silver is tried.
You brought us into the net;
you laid a crushing burden on our backs;
you let men ride over our heads;
we went through fire and through water; 
yet you have brought us out to a place of abundance."