A different beautiful

Today, I’m giddy about welcoming my friend Marcia Kendall to my blog. I sometimes have the privilege of reading and reviewing books for other writers, and this one came to me recently. I knew it would be really, really good, but I hadn’t found time to review it yet, so I asked Marcia. And in her ...

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Today, I’m giddy about welcoming my friend Marcia Kendall to my blog. I sometimes have the privilege of reading and reviewing books for other writers, and this one came to me recently. I knew it would be really, really good, but I hadn’t found time to review it yet, so I asked Marcia. And in her kindness and usual giving spirit, she wrote this for me. Enjoy.


I read A Different Beautiful by Courtney Westlake in less than twelve hours. These sentences from her introduction are the reasons why:

But when my husband, my son, and I welcomed our daughter into our family, our world was not turned upside down.

When something is turned upside down, it falls apart.

But not our world. Our world was shaken up. When you shake something, only the strongest pieces remain standing. The weak pieces fall to the wayside.

And through this, we came to realize how unimportant those weak pieces were that fell apart and fell off—pieces of our lives that were not priorities, that didn’t matter. 

Her honest stories brought me into her world. I realized that something as simple as painting her daughter’s nails required a safety negotiation in her mind.

This book taught me about harlequin ichthyosis and the special care it requires. Courtney’s explanation of how they lovingly serve their daughter, Brenna, reminded me of Jesus washing the feet of His disciples. This made me question what in my life would remind people of that…this proved to be a very challenging question.

Her story is not an easy one as you will come to understand after you read about the crisis she experienced at Christmas shortly after her daughter’s birth, but it is a story of faith and of hope:

A few days after Brenna was born, a family member said to me and Evan, “I haven’t talked to God in years…but I’ve actually been praying for Brenna.” In that moment, I began to feel my worry transform into a faithful trust in God’s purpose for her very significant life. 

With each [blood gas] draw, there came a very slight improvement. It was so slight that it was not much to base any hope on, but that’s the thing about hope: we always reach for it no matter the circumstances. 

Faith doesn’t necessarily come from answered prayer or miracles or met expectations. No, what I have found is that faith comes from trust in God’s will and God’s greatness regardless of what the world tells us we should believe. And sometimes we must fight every day to maintain that trust as the world pushes against it. 

Boldness-1

And I think many of us who have experienced tragedy or grief can relate in part to the moment we must face the realization that we did “everything right” but things turned out differently than expected.

We did everything we knew to do to deliver a strong and healthy child, and our daughter was still one of the sickest babies in the NICU. We did everything right, and we still faced so much uncertainty about being able to take our baby home. 

When I picked up this book, I expected a memoir. What I didn’t expect was to be taught how to live in a more beautiful way. Courtney did something that is rarely seen, she taught the reader simple, concrete ways of how we can be more sensitive to visual differences. This is something that is important for all of us, and I immediately put the book down and taught my own children.

And while she is an effective teacher, she is also a humble one as she wrote of her own defensiveness, “I failed to see the real issue at hand because I chose to become defensive instead of exploring the heart of the matter.”

For our family, we now know a different beautiful, a beautiful that the world might struggle to see or understand, but those of us who know and love Brenna have gratefully been given the gift of understanding this different beautiful.

This kind of transformation comes from the personal choices we make in our lives. Every time we decide to write our story as one that is positive and good, every time we turn a setback into a comeback, every time we choose to praise and be grateful even in the hard, and every time we meet another person’s eyes with kindness, that’s when we are learning how to truly live a life of celebration.

I recently read a tweet, “Think how different we and the world would be if we approached every new situation with two goals: listen and learn.” I suggest we start with this book.

Here is my favorite line from the book, “The Lord has a narrow focus…one focus. Our hearts.” Well, Courtney Westlake, your heart is certainly beautiful.


courtney-different-beautiful-photo-smallCourtney has been writing since she was young, and she holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Writing became the way she processed a whole new frightening and beautiful world as her family learned how to care for Brenna…and learned how to truly celebrate this difficult and wonderful life. She began this blog in 2011 when Brenna was just four days old, after she had been diagnosed at birth with a very rare and severe skin disorder. Her children’s book That’s How You Know was released in 2013.

You can read more about Courtney here and more about the Westlakes’ story here. If you’re interested in having Courtney speak at your event, read more information here. And if you buy the Kindle version by August 31, it’s on sale for just $2.99!

Inspired by Kevin Bacon to connect the dots in prayer

I took a humanities course during my freshman year of college. As much as I now love to read and write, discussing classic literature right after lunchtime made me especially sleepy—warm classroom, full tummy, and the lack of sleep caused by the near all-nighters I pulled regularly as an architecture major. But one day the lesson woke me up because my professor was ...

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I took a humanities course during my freshman year of college. As much as I now love to read and write, discussing classic literature right after lunchtime made me especially sleepy—warm classroom, full tummy, and the lack of sleep caused by the near all-nighters I pulled regularly as an architecture major.

But one day the lesson woke me up because my professor was describing stream of consciousness. Developed by a group of writers in the early twentieth century, it was meant to express the flow of thoughts and feelings in a character’s mind. It relates to the way one thought triggers another and then another, and before you know it, you’re in a whole new place. I thought, Finally! That’s what you call the way I think!

If “stream of consciousness” sounds too fancy, think about “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon.” It’s a game based on the concept of six degrees of separation, which supposes that any two people on earth are six or fewer acquaintance links apart. In this game, people challenge each other to find the shortest path between an arbitrary actor and Kevin Bacon.

You can put this thought process—the concept of making connections and seeing how interrelated we all are—to work in your prayers. Because we’re all connected, one way or another.

DIRECTIONS: Write the name of someone important to you in the center of the page. Who or what is connected to that person? His or her children? Businesses? Relatives? Spouse? Draw lines from the original name, connecting them to others. Thoughts of one child might make you think of someone else’s child. Draw lines between them. Praying for one friend’s marriage may remind you of another couple who needs prayer. Diagram the trajectory of your prayers, noticing the parallels and intersections.

Look below at two samples—one centering on my pastors and best friends, Nathan and Peggy, and one centering on a concept (in this case, marriage). Experiment with different starting points and see where your mind takes you. Click here to download a blank worksheet or just start mapping your prayers on a blank sheet of paper.

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Designed to Pray coverThe exercise above is from Week 3 | Day 3 of my new book, Designed to Pray: Creative Ways to Engage with God. I hope you’ll take a minute to check it out. It’s a different kind of book. Whether you’ve been praying for a long time or are just beginning to, this eight-week adventure will infuse passion and creativity into your communication with God. Filled with daily activities—everything from coloring pages to writing prompts to doodling—it’s an innovative way to start viewing God, the world around you, and your faith with a new perspective.

When I found grace (it really is amazing)

Suzie Eller is hosting a #livefreeThursday linkup on her blog today, and the prompt is grace. She’s right that this is a conversation that we need to have right now—when do we show grace? Do we offer the same grace we’ve been given? What part of that (if any) does offering our opinions or correction have ...

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Suzie Eller is hosting a #livefreeThursday linkup on her blog today, and the prompt is grace. She’s right that this is a conversation that we need to have right now—when do we show grace? Do we offer the same grace we’ve been given? What part of that (if any) does offering our opinions or correction have of grace? Do we get to pick and choose who receives grace?

I don’t have answers, except to say that I want to err on the side of grace rather than judgment. On inclusion rather than exclusion.

Because here’s what I know: I don’t deserve God’s grace, and He gave it to me anyway.

Today I want to re-share a post from 2013. I wrote this while attending Elizabeth Berg’s Writers Workshop in Positano, Italy, in October 2012 (and it also happened to win the Writer’s Digest writing competition in inspirational writing). It’s from a time I was shown the depths of God’s grace, from a time when I was lost and truly felt like I had been found again. It’s my favorite thing I’ve ever written, probably because God made Himself so present in my grief and anger and enabled me to find Him again—in spite of the fact that I knew I didn’t deserve Him. I hope you enjoy.


Amazing grace

Lost, I wander down Positano’s serpentine winding roads, pulling in my toes and elbows as maniacal men on motorbikes speed past, honking their horns and weaving between two cars passing in opposite directions on a road barely wide enough for one. I am drawn to the crates of limone, peaches and braided onions taking their afternoon siesta, lazily awaiting transformation into culinary delights. A girl, whose long bronze legs aren’t obscured at all by her tiny miniskirt, kisses the cheeks of the brothers who run the fish shop, then climbs on her moped, leaving as quickly as she came. Now, though, she holds a white plastic bag sagging low with dense, moist meat.

Minutes later, I slow, stop, then sit on a sun-warmed, salmon-colored bench, transfixed by a woman across the piazza. In between bodies of darting boys, scrambling for the orange ball — a kick here, a header there, triumphant shouts, men in white shirts smoking on benches as they watch — she sits, massive bosoms spread as wide as her legs. These aren’t boobs, mind you; there’s nothing sexual about them. Lounging against her stomach, they’ve nurtured babies and gotten in the way of her kneading bread. Sighing, she takes up residence in her doorway, watching everything and yet nothing. Her knee-high pantyhose fight the urge to roll down her calves into her orthotic shoes. The elastic waist of her black polyester slacks cuts into her flesh beneath the embroidered pink flowers burgeoning across her chest. Forearm resting on her knees, still spread widely, her weariness echoes my own. She’s maybe 65, with coal black hair, the places where her face would be wrinkled made smooth by years of eating good food, made with oils and butters and fats. Nothing self-conscious in her manner, she is stolidly unaware that anyone would notice her. She is heavily present, loudly quiet, taking up all the space in her little corner of the world.

I want that, I think. To be solid again. Real. For months, measuring now more than a year, I’ve been lost. Oh, I can find my location on a map, but since my mom quit fighting the cancer that consumed not just her body but also my understanding of who I am, I’ve wandered, free of her anchor, devoid of direction. I wander quickly, mind you — racing from cheering on my daughter in backstroke to perching on aluminum bleachers as my son dribbles down the basketball court. I careen into the driveway, leaving the car running long enough to revise a client’s ad and answer three more e-mails, then head to the grocery for Pizza Rolls for dinner. I fill up squares on my calendar as quickly as the lifeblood drains from my soul. I replay over and over a conversation we had right after my mom’s diagnosis. “It is not tragic,” she insisted, “for a 70-year-old woman to die of cancer.”

“You are so wrong,” I muttered, as daughters have since time began.

The orange ball bounces my way and I jump out of its path. I turn away, beckoned by the sound of the sea drifting over the wall that surrounds the plaza. Roosters crow, birds call, and motorboats circle the deep blue, teal at the edges, that gently fades to the clear blue of sky, anchoring the majestic cliffs adorned with sorbet-colored buildings, clinging, climbing up the hills. The light here surrounds you, seeming to come from all sides. The life here surrounds you, seeming to come from all sides. Like the embrace of a mother. The softness of bosoms that nurtured babies and got in the way of kneading bread. A mother nothing like my own, yet completely mine.

positano composite1How sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me

Hidden from view by the twists and turns of the stone stairway, cooler here in the shadows, I stop to peer through a rusted red gate, topped with a starburst of metal points, and I notice the jewel-colored tile cemented into the wall next to it. Number 11, it reads, crossed out with ochre paint, the numero 13 roughly stenciled below. A thing of beauty now marked and ugly. Redefined. What happened?

A very good question, my God whispers into my soul. Why have you changed, baby girl?

I picture my mom’s face, her bald-baby-bird head tilted up but no longer in need of sustenance, lips crusty, the whites of her eyes yellowing as the plastic bag beside her ceases to fill. My sister and father and two family friends sit in the kitchen, methodically lifting bites of meatloaf and buttering the rolls left behind by Mom’s friends, glancing occasionally into the next room, where she lies. My sister’s fork stops moving. “I think she stopped breathing.”

It’s just like my mom to do it this way. Two days earlier, as I sat beside her, she awoke, her brain poisoned by her body’s toxins, eyes crazed: “What are we gonna say?”

“What do you mean, Mom? About what?”

Dad rushed in, and looking from him to me to him to me, she insisted, “We can’t say ‘surrounded by family and friends.’ Promise me. Promise me!”

Her biggest fear was underlined by the standard obituary boilerplate: that we would have to watch her go. That that moment would be tattooed onto our psyches, indelibly scarring even the deepest layers. That her last act on earth would harm us rather than help.

My sister’s face traced by silky tears, she clutches Mom’s hands. “You did it, Mom. You did it well! I’m so proud of you. You did it!”

All I can do is gulp in sobs of air. I feel the nudge of my God, offering comfort. As he whispers, Oh, my sweet child, I shrug away his embrace, turning instead toward the relentless, stinging pain of the needles tattooing the image of her still form in pure, vivid color deep inside my mind.

positano composite 3I once was lost…

Another day in Positano, I walk down hundreds of stone steps toward the beach, peeking in doorways, looking behind the public façades for what is hidden. Green gates reveal empty crates jumbled in the corner, broken bottles, smelly trash. Water settles in the grout between misshapen stone blocks and I step around the puddles, pausing to give my aching knees a rest, letting the breeze dry my sweat. A man exits a courtyard (“Ciao, ciao-grazie”), and I consider sliding through the gate before it latches, stepping through the rooms to finger the softness of the worn towels and aprons fluttering on the balconies. Instead, I turn and let my eyes rove over his white shirt unbuttoned halfway down, sleeves rolled up, torso long and lean and trim and lovely, before he folds himself into a miniature military-looking truck and lurches down the crowded street, clutch popping and brakes squealing in protest.

I round another bend — they’re all bends here, no straight or level paths — and a shockwave of beauty presses me back to the wall. The tableau before me is spread with orange tiled terraces with curvy iron tables. Fuchsia bougainvillea climb and preen on this stage, gaudy showgirls begging for attention. The peach and pink and salmon and butter and gold and cream buildings with striped awnings beckon from their perches, while, inside, tourists sip bellinis. Lemons ripen in the sun and olives fall from their gnarled trees onto stretched, waiting nets. Relaxing my shoulders, I turn my face toward the sky, stretch my tight neck from side to side. Envisioning myself open, stretched open waiting to receive, I am able to breathe again.

I duck into a church, where street sounds are hushed and air stifles and Italian women genuflect, loudly kissing their fingertips and offering the gesture up to God. I automatically look up, to the tops of the beams and jewel-colored glass, knowing that the builders of these churches hid tiny details up high, where they could be seen only by the eyes of God. I see nothing, but I know He does. I can’t hide from Him forever. Closing my eyes, suddenly filled, I drop my chin and pray. Lord, I cry. That’s all — one word — Lord. In a rush of emotions lacking coherence, I quietly offer it up to Him, what little I have to give.

positano composite 2 …but now am found

The shops here beckon through tiny doorways. As white linen shirts flutter from hangers, silken scarves dance across baskets of fragrant lemon soaps. Shop owners greet me, so obviously a tourist, in my own language. Around me, couples discuss purchases in French, German, English and Italian. Behind glass cases, cheeses lie down with salamis. Mouthwatering smells of spicy paninis and buttery pastries filled with chocolate or peach further crowd the narrow pathways. Trinkets hang from placards as foreigners grab up postcards and wine stoppers with shaky “Positano” lettered around the pastel scenes. At the top of a hill, I find colorful tiles and bowls and olive oil containers, painted by hand with lemons and vines and intricate patterns. The women in the back stop chattering in their expressive, fluid ways long enough to nod hello, then go back to their tales of men and children and love and loss, voices swelling and expanding to fill the space.

Mom would love these tiles, I think. She was always the first person I bought for, her gifts the easiest and most obvious choices. She knew me the same way. I ask a shopkeeper, “Quanta costa?” What’s the cost? Will this loss simply change me or completely define me? Help me, Lord, to find value again — not just outside but within.

So very tired of navigating alone, I buy a ticket for the orange bus that will take me back. I hope. The driver doesn’t understand my question, but on impulse I climb on anyway, believing the bus to be pointed in the right direction. As we climb up and up, curving around cliffs with stunning buildings stretching toward the heavens, I feel lighter. We pick up speed as we near my stop and fly right on by. My stomach lurches, dropping down the sheer mountain faces into the sea. No, I decide. This is an adventure. I can do this. I take a deep breath to slow my rapid heartbeat and sit back. Minutes later we reach the turnaround which positions the bus the right way to follow the one-way (down) road, and within moments, the bus stops just feet from the entrance to my hotel.

Va bene. “See, it’s all good,” I hear Positano remind me. You just have to be willing to take chances now and again. Let the vibrant colors thrill you. Stop trying to make out words; listen instead for nuances. Kiss noisily, grasp shoulders and stand close to those you love. Savor delicate flavors, letting them thrill your tongue. Hurry all you want; get where you need to go. But once you’re there, once you finally arrive, linger. Open yourself, even to the pain. Because although the streets are busy and crowded, they run in both directions. And when you open to let out the pain, good things come rushing in. The outside world hushes and you find yourself behind that façade, in that secret place where not everyone can go, head nestled on that ample bosom, a beloved child once more.

Was blind, but now I see.

Standing (kneeling, bowing, dancing?) before God

I’m linking up with Suzie Eller for #livefreeThursday. The prompt: Worship. I wanted to repost something I wrote for the Internet Café last July. It’s about prayer, but it’s also about worship. Read on… and I’d love to have you share your thoughts on how your experience in prayer and worship has changed, based on ...

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I’m linking up with Suzie Eller for #livefreeThursday. The prompt: Worship. I wanted to repost something I wrote for the Internet Café last July. It’s about prayer, but it’s also about worship. Read on… and I’d love to have you share your thoughts on how your experience in prayer and worship has changed, based on your posture.


I’ve prayed sitting in a pew. Balanced on my knees on a cushioned kneeler. Standing at the altar, hands on another’s shoulder. In a circle at prayer group, joined hand to hand in unity. I’ve pressed my face into my carpet, distraught and wordless, and I’ve stood with both arms raised high above my head with confidence and praise.

It’s all prayer. It’s all good. And however you approach it, I’m not here to tell you you’re doing it wrong.

What I know, though, is that so often we get stuck in a routine. Before long, actions that once help deep meaning no longer carry any weight. Emotion is replaced with familiarity.

Familiarity can be good. It comes with comfort and peace. You don’t want to lose that.

But I’d like to suggest that maybe you should shake things up once in a while.

**

A few months ago, on a Sunday morning, I went to the altar to pray. I’d been closing in with God, doing a lot of writing, thinking of Him as a friend. Sitting beside me. Walking next to me.

But that day, as I knelt in prayer, I realized something. I’ve spent time side-by-side, but not enough time at His feet. It’s a posture of surrender. The physical position is important. Because as I sit at His feet, I remember how big He is. How powerful.

I realize that for generations and generations, kings had to grant special approval to let someone enter the throne room. I’ve done nothing to earn that kind of access. But He allows me to approach Him in His sanctuary, this place of peace, away from the chaos and noise. To rest in the shadows of His glory. To draw near in the shelter of His wings. To not have to do anything. To simply be. To be with Him.

Nothing more is required.

Resting my head and shoulder against the throne, leaning near Him, imagining His hand resting on my head, I feel the weight of His majesty. A fatherly gesture of familiarity and comfort. The bestowal of a blessing.

The sweetest of gifts. The greatest.

**

We can’t control the way God responds to our prayers. But I’ve discovered that I have different types of experiences when I change the posture of my prayer.

Standing with arms open toward the sky makes me feel exultant. I close my eyes and imagine His light shining upon me, His Spirit pouring into me. I’m coming boldly before His throne.

Bowing on my knees makes me feel like I’m coming to Him in humility and supplication, remembering who He is and offering Him respect. Asking Him, humbly and reverently, for help.

Standing, arms open, palms up, I’m talking to Him as a friend. He reaches out His hands to grasp mine, and we stand face to face.

Face down on the floor, awash in emotions, I am physically responding to the almighty power and greatness, the majesty of my God. I am bowing as low as I can in order to lift Him up.

Lying in bed at night, whispering to Him, unloading the burdens I’ve carried all day, I feel an intimacy and can imagine His arms holding me tight as He rocks me to sleep.

**

If the only way I’ve experienced God is in the silence, the quiet moments might not seem so sweet. If I’ve only ever danced and shouted, I’ve missed the opportunity to hear His still, small voice. If I always humble myself, I may forget that He wants to come face to face with me and build relationship. And if I simply walk through life with Him beside me, I may lose sight of how powerful and magnificent He is. I may forget that He. Is. God. We’re not equals; He is so much more.

And the more ways I approach Him, the more I experience of Him.

What are you doing today? Whether you meet me at the foot of the Almighty God, or we link arms and dance for joy, or we sit down together and talk over coffee, know this: There’s plenty of room for all of us. And He will meet us there.

 

He whispers

My friend Cindy and I stepped inside the empty chapel, lowering our voices as we did so. A wooden structure with lots of windows, this humble building perched on the lake. The empty room was decorated with hardwood floors and a view of trees and water. The only furniture: three benches, a chair and a ...

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My friend Cindy and I stepped inside the empty chapel, lowering our voices as we did so. A wooden structure with lots of windows, this humble building perched on the lake. The empty room was decorated with hardwood floors and a view of trees and water. The only furniture: three benches, a chair and a desk. And on the desk, two leather journals.

I opened one, and tears blurred my vision. People who came here before me wrote their prayers on these pages. There was both childish handwriting and mature penmanship. Neat and sloppy. Short and long. Careful and scrawled.

But all were heartfelt.

Some penned cries to God to please hear them. One woman promised to forgive her husband. Others begged God to make Himself known. Some entries were signed “your prodigal son.” People talked of suicide, of loss, of loneliness. One teen wrote, “I’ve put off the old, but when will the new come?”

Desperation and gratitude filled the pages. A depth of feeling I could barely process, except by releasing a steady stream of tears.

I was standing on holy ground. This was a place where people met God.

And our God is a God who can handle all of these needs. Who loves each of those people and hears their cries.

Sanctified, holy ground.

Overwhelmed with His presence.

Bowed under the weight of God’s holiness.

I’ve never seen anything more beautiful. I flipped through the pages. Cindy and I read sentences out loud to each other, and smiled, and cried, and laughed, and prayed.

What a God, to inspire such devotion.

To motivate such surrender.

To cherish the depths of such raw emotion.

To answer the needs of people who are tired of hiding, who are desperate for answers, who will risk everything to hear from their God.

That moment is seared into my brain—really, into my heart.

Bet you wish you could go there. Here’s the truth: you can. Anywhere you are, when you drop the barriers and just get real with God—when you stop pretending you’re okay, when you face how badly you need help—that is holy ground.

Those are prayers that move God’s heart.

Those are words that He hears. Needs that He responds to.

Sometimes God has to shout to get our attention.

But other times—in these quiet moments, in these holy, sanctified times—God whispers.

He whispers just to you. Words for your ears only. Salve designed to heal your particular heart.

He whispers life, and hope, and light.

He whispers, “Thank you, my child, for coming home.”


51svFT1o0FL._SX321_BO1204203200_Today I’m linking up with Suzie Eller for her #livefreeThursday writing prompt. Click here to read other people’s responses to “He whispers.” Click here to get her wonderful new book, Come With Me.

In the boat with Jesus—and a giveaway!

Ever since I started genuinely following Jesus, I’ve felt an almost desperate longing for more of Him. For revelations that can only come from God. For a deeply passionate and intimate faith. But I can only go so far in that direction before I falter. My heart longs for more of God, it really does. ...

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Ever since I started genuinely following Jesus, I’ve felt an almost desperate longing for more of Him. For revelations that can only come from God. For a deeply passionate and intimate faith.

But I can only go so far in that direction before I falter.

My heart longs for more of God, it really does. Even in my lesser moments. But, inevitably there comes a time when it gets hard to keep living out my faith. Really hard. (Or I get bored. Or busy. Or discouraged. Or I feel like He’s not listening—or maybe that I have nothing to say.)

At those times, I’m not sure I have what it takes to stick with it. There’s a verse in James chapter 4 that says, “You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” In context, it’s talking about not knowing what will happen tomorrow, about the insignificance of our lifetimes in the span of eternity.

But every time I read it, I’m haunted by the certainty that it’s Jesus speaking to me.

I am like a mist… I’m here now, but before long—tomorrow? next week? an hour from now?—I’ll vanish. I’m a vapor. Not solid. Impermanent. Uncertain. Fickle. Not dedicated enough. Weak and weary. All too aware of my lack of discipline, my inability to stay focused on one thing for the long term. I know that I can do all things through Christ. I know that He has called me, and that when I let myself abide in that holy place with Him, my abilities (or lack thereof) fall away and His take over.

And yet, some days the responsibility that comes from wholly committing to this life weighs heavy on me. The knowledge of my weaknesses immobilizes me.

51svFT1o0FL._SX321_BO1204203200_I recently read an Advance Copy of Suzie Eller’s new book, Come with Me: Discovering the Beauty of Following Where He Leads. There are so many things I would like to share with you, but I’ll stick to the one that truly stopped me in my tracks.

Remember in Matthew 4 and Mark 1 when Jesus asked Simon Peter and his brother to leave their nets behind and follow Him? They did.

And yet, we see in Luke chapter 5 that Jesus sees two boats, left there by fisherman who were washing their nets at the end of a discouraging night. He gets in the boat belonging to Simon and asks him to put out from the shore.

Here’s what I never noticed: At some point, Simon went back to fishing.

He was weary and wasn’t catching anything. Jesus had him try one more time, and this time the results were spectacular—but what came before that is the bigger point: Jesus waited in the boat for Simon to come to him. No shame, no beating him up for disappearing again. Jesus knew just where Simon Peter would be, so He went to him.

And Jesus knew just where He would find me—returning again and again to my old ways. He knew that, just as Simon was having no luck at all, catching no fish, feeling tired and discouraged, so was I. When I hurt my arm, I got weeks of much-needed time off work. A dear friend commented one day that I was given this gift of time, so why would I fill it up with the same ol’, same ol’? Why not do things differently this time?

Indeed. Because clearly my old way of doing things wasn’t working so well. No fish in my nets—no margins. I didn’t have time for the people who matter the most. I didn’t have the energy to reach out and do things for people, to be God’s hands extended. I didn’t have the kind of prayer life I want to have.

So I’ve pondered and prayed. I’ve let my crowded mind slow to a leisurely pace, accepting the fact that I need help and cannot do it all myself. I’m evaluating the way I work, the tasks that fill my days, and who I think God made me to be.

And what I’ve discovered during these weeks of figuring out who I am when I’m not being defined by my work is that I’m not doing it alone. All along, Jesus has been sitting in my boat.

I don’t want to meet Him and follow Him temporarily. I don’t want it to be a phase I move in and out of. I want to commit. To follow Him—truly follow Him—without limits.

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Jesus is waiting in my boat for me to push out from the shore of who I’ve been and row towards who He wants me to be. I’m not having to do it alone. I’m moving forward with the One who knows where we’re going. The One who knows what I need to do. The One who sees me, understands me, and inspires me.

But the biggest miracle, as Suzie Eller pointed out at a retreat I attended, is this: when I cast out into deeper waters, even if I never have any fish—the miracle is that I am experiencing a deeper walk with God. As she wrote, “Where we go is not nearly as important as who we go with.”

So I am going, with no hesitation whatsoever. Facing forward eagerly and happily. No looking back. Because as long as I’m in the boat with Jesus, there’s no place I’d rather be.

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I’m giving away a copy of Come with Me. To enter, leave a comment below before midnight on May 2, and share where you think God is leading you. Or what He’s asking you to say yes to. If you don’t win, you can order the book here or from your favorite retailer. It releases on May 3. #livefree #comewithme

Finding Peace & Purpose in a World of Crazy

The irony is not lost on me. I have post-it notes all around my computer monitor, lists of deadlines and checklists to keep me on task. I eat at my desk. I stay in my office until late at night, trying to squeeze in one more project, one more email, one more blog post, one ...

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The irony is not lost on me.

I have post-it notes all around my computer monitor, lists of deadlines and checklists to keep me on task. I eat at my desk. I stay in my office until late at night, trying to squeeze in one more project, one more email, one more blog post, one more cog in my social media platform. Then I get an email asking for help—can I read this book and post a review THIS WEEK in exchange for some free books? Of course, I say. Because, if you know me at all, you know I always think I can do one more thing. On Monday, I was a superhero designer, accomplishing massive, voluminous feats without breaking a sweat.

Tuesday was a whole other thing. A crappy day. Dreary, dark, blustery weather to match my mood. Work was making me crazy. Such a huge list of deadlines and not enough information. I sat at my desk and cried, but only for a sec, because who has time for this? I had piles of things to put away, galleys of my own second book to proof and return, and a son to pick up from school. I sent emails, checked the proofs, ran to the store, answered the phone, begged my husband to drive through someplace and bring back dinner because I had so much to do. Finished proofing while watching Downton Abbey. Power-watched two episodes of a brainless Netflix series (to escape reality and relax), and then I realized it was only 10:15. I could squeeze in a few chapters of my new book (the one whose review is due in three days) before bed.

I’ll be honest. I planned to skim it and get the review done quickly. But I immediately discovered that would not be possible. I underlined something on nearly every page. Marked almost every word on others. Drew clouds and thunderbolts and stars and boxes around things.

Breaking Busy Book. Alli Worthington. If it doesn't add to your life, it doesn't belong in your lifeAnd all the while, everything that I’ve been so frantically juggling decided to crash down around me.

I already knew my life was out of control, unbalanced. I knew I wasn’t handling things well. I’ve felt God nudging me, whispering to me, suggesting changes. But this wasn’t a still, small voice anymore. God was shouting. Not in anger, but it had to be loud to make me sit up and take notice. It had to be strong to get me to respond.

Earlier that same day, God spoke into my soul—hours and hours before I opened the pages of this little turquoise book—and said I need to make changes. I need to trust Him. I need to stick up for myself. Live the way I know I need to. Quit setting myself up for spiritual failure—spiritual, emotional, physical overload.

It needs to stop.

But it’s never quite as easy as that, is it? Because I feel like I have some kind of responsibility to do more, to do everything I’m capable of doing. Because I evaluate myself with such twisted measures of success. Because I need to earn money. That’s often what it comes down to for me. Quality of life I want schedule-wise, or quality of living money-wise?

Breaking Busy spells out the havoc of a life lived the way I have been living mine. It shows why we can’t and shouldn’t try to define ourselves by how busy we are. It spells out the dangers. Asks the right questions. Discusses warning signs and danger zones. And kindly, gently, with a good sense of humor, the author prodded me until I could see—no, admit—the problems I’ve avoided.

unspecifiedYou probably wish I’d talk more about the book and less about myself. But like all the best books, Breaking Busy spoke to me deeply. Books like this spark inner debate, stir up passions, and inspire—to such an extent that the change seems disproportionate to the actual words that started the spark and in a way that makes it impossible to separate the resultant change in me from the content of the book itself. But after sleeping on it, and getting up and reading more, I’ve prayed and prayed, talked to friends, and already taken some steps towards the changes God is showing me. I don’t know what it will all look like in the end because I’m still processing, still trying to ask for and hear what God is telling me. All I can say for sure is that this book has changed me, and I absolutely believe I will come out better in the long run, even if the process is hard.

If you don’t live the kind of crazy, always-striving life I do—if you do things like find quiet time for yourself, take the occasional nap, and let yourself fully engage with your family whenever you can—then this book probably won’t speak to you like it did to me. But it might, because it’s full of wisdom—new insights from scripture and old stories told in new ways. If you feel like there’s always more you should do, then grab some kleenex and a journal and sit down and know it won’t be a quick, easy read. It might, however, be just what you needed to hear. It will definitely be worth it to contain the “busy” and find the calm that comes when we live as the people God made us to be. No more, no less. But just exactly right.


Just say no to unnecessary crazy. BreakingBusy.com #BreakingBusy


I received a copy of this book plus a book bundle from Zondervan in exchange for my honest review of Breaking Busy.

Branch Out—what to read in February

Earlier this week, I wrote about the book I read for January (Jen Hatmaker’s For the Love). Today’s post is relatively short: I’ll tell you my pick for February and offer some ideas to help you pick what you’d like to read. I really hope you’ll consider reading some books with me this year and ...

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Earlier this week, I wrote about the book I read for January (Jen Hatmaker’s For the Love). Today’s post is relatively short: I’ll tell you my pick for February and offer some ideas to help you pick what you’d like to read. I really hope you’ll consider reading some books with me this year and telling me what they’re about. It doesn’t truly substitute for first-hand experience of reading it myself, but it sure saves me a lot of time. And as a bonus, it will help me clear out those “to be read” piles of books I have all over my house.

And (after all, this isn’t supposed to be all about me) you might learn something new in the process. See? Win-win.

Screen Shot 2016-01-22 at 3.06.35 PMOK, so “a classic Christian voice.” The first name that comes to mind for me is C.S. Lewis, and I have a book of his on my shelf already that I haven’t read, so it’s my pick for this month. A Grief Observed is a book I’ve had recommended to me many times, but I felt too tender to read it. So we’ll see how I do now. (Every time I think I’m “done” with my grief over losing Mom, it hits me fresh. It doesn’t matter that she’s been gone for more than four years. And you don’t have to tell me—I already know—that I’ll never be “done” missing her.)

Some other ideas to consider (and be warned, I’ve only read a couple of these so I can’t guarantee you’ll like them, but pick whatever intrigues you. Even if you don’t read it all, you’ll have a better idea of what it is):

The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom with Elizabeth & John Sherrill
The Pursuit of God by A.W. Tozer
Mere Christianity or The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis
The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence
The Seven Storey Mountain by Thomas Merton
Something by Oswald Chambers 
Dark Night of the Soul by Saint John of the Cross
Orthodoxy by G. K. Chesterton
The Cost of Discipleship by Frederick Bonhoeffer
The Imitation of Christ by Thomas á Kempis
The Helper (or any others) by Catherine Marshall
No Greater Love by Mother Teresa

And a few other names to think about:

Peter Marshall
John Calvin
John Milton
John Wesley
Dwight Moody
Martin Luther

If you’re planning to participate, please comment below with the name of the book you plan to read. And at the end of the month, when I tell you about the book I read, you can share your insights in the comments below that post. Thanks!

Branch Out with Me — 2016 Reading Challenge

It’s a new year, and I love reading challenges. Or, at least, I like the idea of them. Not sure I’ve ever completely followed through. But I’m willing to try, and hope you are, too. Things are always better when you do them together. Quite a few of you responded to my blog survey. (Thank you.) ...

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It’s a new year, and I love reading challenges. Or, at least, I like the idea of them. Not sure I’ve ever completely followed through. But I’m willing to try, and hope you are, too. Things are always better when you do them together.

Quite a few of you responded to my blog survey. (Thank you.) What I learned is what I already suspected: You don’t have a lot of time—and you are tired of the conventional. You like to face doubt, explore, and find new, practical ways to live your faith.

Clearly, so do I. And what I have learned is that it is always good for me spiritually when I am challenged. When I face new thought and ideas (even if I don’t agree with them), I grow because it forces me to figure out what I believe. To read, to study, to research.

Don’t worry, though. You’re not required to do anything extra. But what I hope you will do is let this be your excuse to try something new. To hear other voices, ones you might not have encountered on your own. To keep an open mind in the hopes that it will enrich your spiritual life. That it will deepen your faith. That you will have a newfound respect for other people’s opinions, and that you will realize that different views don’t have to be threatening.

First rule: no pressure. I want this to be helpful, not another obligation you feel you have to endure. So here’s the deal: If you hate it, you don’t have to finish it. If you love it, you can take your time with it—read it all year long if you wish, and skip the rest. If you want to check off the challenge but don’t have a lot of time, skim your books. Read the first chapter, flip through the book, and read the last chapter. Maybe you’ll want to go back and read it all, maybe you won’t, but you’ll at least have some awareness of the approach, writer, or concept presented. Or read some reviews online. Or check out the author’s website or blog. Or take a break and join us again the following month.

Each month I’ll provide a list to help give you some ideas—but they’re just ideas. Insert your own. Let this be a reason to explore, to strengthen your beliefs, to start new discussions. To see what God will reveal, to be open to hearing from Him in a new way, to expect surprises and insights and revelation.

So won’t you join me? Please? When you do (even if it’s only periodically), I hope you’ll share your book selections in the comments. Each month, I will write something about the books I read. And if you have any “nuggets” from your book—a single quote that you’ll remember, your overall impression, or whatever—it would make me so happy to have you share those with me.

So how about it? Ready to branch out a little? I know I am.

If you’re planning to participate, please comment below with the name of the book you plan to read. And at the end of the month, when I tell you about the book I read, you can share your insights in the comments below that post. Thanks!


My pick for January: For the Love by Jen Hatmaker. Why? Because I love her but I haven’t read any of her actual books yet (only her blog and social media posts). And because my book club is reading it anyway. (That’s not cheating—it’s simplifying to give me a better chance of success :-).) I also chose this because she’s part of the team of women who are speaking on the new Women of Faith Belong Tour—which, I’d like to add, is the organization for which I wrote my next book, Designed to Pray (coming out in August for their first event).

Some other ideas to consider (note: I’ve only read a couple of these so I have no idea what they’re like… all I know is they look interesting):

Simply Tuesday: Small-Moment Living in a Fast-Moving World by Emily Freeman
Color the Psalms: An Adult Coloring Book for Your Soul (Color the Bible)
I Was Blind (Dating), But Now I See
by Stephanie Rische
Out of Sorts: Making Peace with an Evolving Faith by Sarah Bessey
Accidental Saints: Finding God in All the Wrong People by Nadia Bolz-Weber
Jesus Feminist: An Invitation to Revisit the Bible’s View of Women by Sarah Bessey
Bandersnatch: An Invitation to Explore Your Unconventional Soul by Erika Morrison
The SuperMom Myth by Becky Kopitzke
The Bible Tells Me So: Why Defending Scripture Has Made Us Unable to Read It by Peter Enns
Girl Meets Change: Truths to Carry You through Life’s Transitions by Kristen Strong
Longing for Paris: One Woman’s Search for Joy, Beauty and Adventure—Right Where She Is by Sarah Mae
Savor: Living Abundantly Where You Are, As You Are by Shauna Niequist
Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church
by Rachel Held Evans
Living Well, Spending Less: 12 Secrets of the Good Life by Ruth Soukup
Wild in the Hollow: On Chasing Desire and Finding the Broken Way
by Amber C. Haines
Untangled: Let God Loosen the Knots of Insecurity in Your Life by Carey Scott

The answer to your Christmas gift needs

The short answer: books. The longer one: My inbox keeps filling with more posts about Christmas gift ideas—last-minute ones, inexpensive ones, things to make, and so forth. So I figure why not add to the clutter with my own thoughts? Really, though, here’s the truth: I love to give books. And most people I know ...

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The short answer: books.

The longer one: My inbox keeps filling with more posts about Christmas gift ideas—last-minute ones, inexpensive ones, things to make, and so forth. So I figure why not add to the clutter with my own thoughts? Really, though, here’s the truth: I love to give books. And most people I know love to receive them (or at least they do a good job pretending). And what I love even more is pointing people to new authors, particularly when they’re friends of mine. So here’s a list of some of my favorites. It’s not too late to order them on Amazon or Barnes and Noble (or at your favorite independent bookseller). I’ve taken the liberty of stereotyping personalities and genders for this list, but most of these overlap and would be great for, well, everyone.

For the men in your life who love cars:

The Detroit Electric Scheme (and Detroit Breakdown and Detroit Shuffle) by D.E. Johnson — great mystery series set in (you guessed it) Detroit in the early 1900s, based around the story of early electric automobiles. You don’t have to love cars to enjoy this mystery. I couldn’t put them down!

Truck: A Love Story by Michael Perry. My friend Scott, who never read a single book (besides the Bible) after he got out of school, loved this. So much. (I did, too.) A fun, quirky memoir about rebuilding a 1951 International Harvester pickup truck… and so much more than that. Confession: I’ve met this author but he has no idea who I am. I still love him.

For teens or tweens:

It’s a Wonderful Death by Sarah Schmitt — YA novel with a wonderfully snarky protagonist and a fun cast of characters…and a moving and heartfelt message underneath it all.

The Hunter Awakens and The Spirit of Steel by J.R. Roper — adventure for the middle-grade reader, especially boys. Ethan, the main character, is on a dangerous adventure, and he’s just the kind of kid you’d want your children to hang out with.

For people of faith:

When We Were on Fire by Addie Zierman — truly one of my most favorite memoirs. Addie’s story is about carrying the baggage of growing up in the Christian subculture of the 1990s, and her search to find faith again on her own terms.

Found by Micha Boyett — a memoir about losing prayer and her Spirit-life, and then finding it again. Beautifully written and eminently relatable.

Praying Upside Down (sorry, I know it’s obnoxious, but I have to at least mention it) — part memoir, part practical advice, and not (I hope) ultra-gooey-religious. For men and women.

For women:

The SuperMom Myth by Becky Kopitzke — fun and practical, this book talks about letting go of preconceived ideas of perfection and embracing the role of mother without guilt or fear. She somehow manages to do this without preaching at all. It’s so good. Probably ideal for those with younger kids, but even for me (whose kids range from 15 to 22), I learned plenty and found it relevant.

Untangled by Carey Scott — such a good book about how we all feel as though we don’t measure up. Great advice about how to untangle your self-esteem from the world and find it in God.

For women who love mysteries:

The Manor House Mystery Series or The White House Chef Series by Julie Hyzy — cozy mysteries that are well-written and entertaining, with protagonists who are eminently likable (as is the author).

Soul’s Prisoner by Cara Luecht (or any of her books, because they’re all good) — a woman in Chicago in the late 1800s discovers something she shouldn’t. A great, suspenseful historical fiction book.

For women who love good stories:

The Coincidence of Coconut Cake by Amy Reichert — food-centered story (so, really, how can you go wrong?) about love and misunderstandings and Milwaukee. I loved it. (Pair it with a whisk or spatula or bag of coconut to make a themed gift.)

Anything by Elizabeth Berg — my favorite is Talk Before Sleep, but be warned: it’s sad and probably not the right book for someone dealing closely with cancer. The Pull of the Moon is another favorite, about a woman having a menopausal crisis. And Durable Goods, a story about an adolescent girl in the 50s, is lovely.

For anyone (thinkers, activists, or anyone else):

Where Am I Eating? and Where Am I Wearing? by Kelsey Timmerman — a journalist travels the world to trace the origins of his food and his clothes. Fascinating glimpse into the lives of those who make or grow things we take for granted. Kelsey is a great storyteller and the books opened my eyes to so many things without making me feel guilty for my ignorance. (Add a bar of chocolate or pound of coffee to Eating or a pair of boxers to Wearing to make it a fun, themed gift.)

 

For the writer:

Escaping into the Open: The Art of Writing True by Elizabeth Berg — so good. That’s really all I can say.

And although I don’t know him personally :-), I ADORE Stephen King’s On Writing. And I can’t call her a friend, but I did get to meet her once, so I’ll also include Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamott. Another must-have book for the writer.

**

As I’m writing this, I’m realizing that the real gift I’ve been given is the gift of some amazing friends. So thankful. And honored to be able to share them with you.

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