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!

Prayer for the overachiever

Lord, there is so much I want to do. So much You made me able to do. Not just in my home or professional life, but in my faith life. I want to grow deeper, learn more, and pray more. I want to find more of You. But the inherent beauty in grace lies in ...

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Lord, there is so much I want to do. So much You made me able to do. Not just in my home or professional life, but in my faith life. I want to grow deeper, learn more, and pray more. I want to find more of You.

But the inherent beauty in grace lies in this truth: I can’t do a single thing to earn any more of Your love.

I can try. I can strive, commit, persevere. Achieve, succeed, reach.

And yet You’ve already offered me all of Yourself, independent of what I will do or have done. Understanding this is freeing and frustrating all at once. Because it takes off the pressure—while forcing me to look beyond myself. To realize Your acceptance is not about my abilities, to recognize that my relationship with You cannot be forced. I can’t make it happen. Instead, I must yield. I cannot bend Your will into submission. And I cannot doggedly hold onto my own will, either.

Truly, I don’t want to. It’s a relief to know this is one thing I absolutely cannot do. And to have permission to stop trying and simply be. To be in Your presence. To be the object of Your love.

To be defined by You, not by what I do or who I am.

You’ve effectively taken the responsibility off me, and You hold it in Your capable hands. There is no better place to be than right here, right now, with You. To simply rest and stop trying. To know that You are the source. You are the way I find You. You are the way I get there, and You are also the destination.

You are all that You ever claimed to be, and more than enough.

You want me to come to You just as I am. Not when I’ve done more. Not after I’ve completed my task list. But now. With everything else stripped away. No recognition, no awards or accolades.

Just You and me.

It’s the most I could ever hope for.

Amen.

Don’t know what to say? These writing prompts are for you

I’ve talked to several people lately about journaling, so I thought I’d share some prayer writing prompts from my book. You can also download a single-page PDF here to keep in your journal for those days when you need some inspiration. Not sure what to say when those blank journal pages are staring you in the face? ...

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I’ve talked to several people lately about journaling, so I thought I’d share some prayer writing prompts from my book. You can also download a single-page PDF here to keep in your journal for those days when you need some inspiration.


writing prompts handout previewNot sure what to say when those blank journal pages are staring you in the face? Pick a prompt, set a timer if you want (start with ten minutes), and start writing. Don’t stop to think. Don’t let your pen stop moving until you are done. Just write. In your heart, keep an attitude of offering, of openness. You can write about God, about your faith and beliefs, or—my preference—write to God. Talk to Him as though He is sitting there beside you. (He is.)

WRITE A LOVE LETTER TO GOD:

• I love You because . . .
• My favorite thing about You is . . .
• I feel closest to You when . . .
• Today I saw You in [this person/situation] . . .
• Ask Him questions or bring Him your doubts:
• My biggest doubt is . . .
• What can I do for You?
• One thing that doesn’t make sense to me is _________. Please help me understand.
• What’s troubling me today is __________. Help me work through it.
• What stumbling blocks am I facing? How can I get past them?
• I disagree with this interpretation of Scripture. Show me the truth.
• I’m upset that You haven’t answered my prayer.
• Why did you say _______?

REMIND YOURSELF OF ALL YOU KNOW ABOUT HIM:

• The aspect of You I am leaning on today is. . . [Provider, Counselor, Healer, Prince of Peace, the Good Shepherd, etc.]
• The first time I knew You were there was when . . .
• When I picture You, I see ________.
• A miracle I’ve witnessed is . . .
• I know You are real because . . .
• What surprises me the most about You is . . .
• You are so good. You are ________ [fill in names, titles, aspects, characteristics].
• I remember when You . . .

TELL GOD YOUR STORIES AND RETELL HIS:

• What You have revealed to me
• A specific time someone prayed for me
• How I hear Your voice
• What I believed about You in elementary school. As a teen. When my kids were born. When I lost a person close to me. When You first revealed Yourself to me.
• Lord, You’ve changed me. Over the last year, I’ve noticed . . .
• My earliest memory of You is . . .
• My favorite gift (or talent) You have given me (and what I’d like to do with it)
• I’ll never forget the time You . . .
• Sometimes You feel far away from me when . . .

OR SIMPLY EXPLORE AND RECORD:

• The person who taught me most about prayer is . . .
• Ways to open my life to You
• Someone whose faith I admire is . . . (and why)
• What I would like my children to know about my faith is . . .
• A Scripture that means a lot to me is . . .
• I sometimes hide the fact that I am a Christian because . . .
The thing I wish I could change about myself is . . .
• What I’ve learned from watching others (both good and bad)
• Thank You for giving me the strength to . . .
• A temptation I’m struggling with is . . .
• Forgive me, Lord, for . . .
• Thank You, Lord, for . . .
• I can’t seem to forgive myself for . . .
• Help me to let go of my anger about . . .
• Teach me to forgive people who hurt me, like . . .

Sometimes taking stock of our current situation can bring with it feelings of frustration, sadness,
or anger. But it can also lead us toward gratitude, and focusing on feelings of thankfulness can help us let go of those ugly feelings.

For the Love by Jen Hatmaker

  As part of my Branch Out Reading Challenge, I chose as my pick for January (“a best-selling Christian book, something new and/or popular”) For the Love by Jen Hatmaker. Just from reading her blog and various other things, I knew I loved her. And I’m excited that she is one of the big-name speakers for the ...

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As part of my Branch Out Reading Challenge, I chose as my pick for January (“a best-selling Christian book, something new and/or popular”) For the Love by Jen Hatmaker.

Just from reading her blog and various other things, I knew I loved her. And I’m excited that she is one of the big-name speakers for the new Women of Faith tour, Belong. (In case I haven’t mentioned it—ha—my new book, Designed to Pray, is being published by Tyndale and Women of Faith for that tour.) Shamefully, though, I had not yet read any of her books. But now I have, and so should you. Because A) she gets it. She gets all of it—motherhood, being a wife, writing, struggling, loving Jesus, being real. And B) she may be the funniest person on earth. I exaggerate not.

I realize she’s a few years younger than I am, but I want to be her when I grow up. Besides her amazing talent for writing and speaking, she also has great style and loves food.

I read a review once that criticized this book, saying it was too light and fluffy—the reviewer wanted to read about how to live as a Christian, not discuss yoga pants or leggings. I disagree. I would argue that there is room for both, and in all of my favorite friendships, we can easily segue from one topic into the other and back again, seamlessly. When I read this book, I found depth in the more theological thinking, the stories of how to live this life and share it with others and not beat ourselves up—and relief when, for a few pages, the topics got lighter and she made me laugh. As a writer, I’ve often said that I write to make myself known, because then others will reciprocate and open up. But this time, I got to experience that from the other side. Reading this book made me feel known and understood. Jen spoke truth to this phase of my life, both as a mom and as a writer.

Besides, even from the very first page, you can see that she is not all about herself. Her endorsements are purposely not from celebrities, but from her readers (with qualifications like “introvert, blogger, Jesus-follower, lover of free swag” and “harmonica collector, embracer and contributor of awkward situations, guacamole lover”). Jen is kind of a big deal, but she doesn’t act like it. You gotta like that about a person.

There is no way I can include all of the nuggets that I will carry with me, so I’m going to include a few of the sections I underlined from the first few chapters. (On a side note, recently I gave a copy of a book I was reading to my friend Vickie. She brought me a new book later that day to replace it, but kept mine, because her favorite part were the notes and underlines I made. So that’s sort of what I’m sharing with you here today.) 🙂

“Folks who thrive on God’s grace give grace easily, but the self-critical person becomes others-critical. We ‘love’ people the way we ‘love’ ourselves, and if we are not good enough, then no one is… [God] is good at being God. Hooray! We don’t have to be saviors and critics for each other; we’re probably better as loved people beside one another. We aren’t good gods, but we can be good humans.”

“I fretted and agonized and vacillated before I remembered to pray. (I am a delightful choice for your spiritual advisor, yes?)… People will take as much as you will give them, not because they are terrible humans, but because they only want this one slice of you. It doesn’t seem like much to them. On paper, it’s just that one thing, that one night, that one commitment. Plus, you’re probably good at their pet thing. But they don’t observe the scope of your life and all the other tricks on your beam. They just want that one dip/scoop/lean, but only so many tricks fit into a day… Gracious noes challenge the myth of Doing It All. When I see another woman fighting for her balance beam, I am inspired because if she has permission, then I do too. Wise women know what to hold onto and what to release, and how to walk confidently in their choices—no regrets, no apologies, no guilt.”

GRAPHIC jen hatmaker quote

“Theology is either true everywhere or it isn’t true anywhere. If it isn’t also true for a poor single Christian mom in Haiti, it isn’t true… We get to labor over our “calling” because we are educated and financially stable, so many of us eschew the honor of ordinary work and instead fret over the perception of wasting our lives….Your career may not involve ‘Christian-sanctioned’ labor, but that doesn’t mean you aren’t walking in your calling… Every goodness God asked us to display is available to you today. Through ordinary work, people can be set free, valued, and changed, including yourself. God’s kingdom will not come in any more power elsewhere than it will come in your life today.”

“God created an entire package. It all counts. There are no throwaway qualities. In fact, those qualities might point you in just the right direction. Nothing is wasted: not a characteristic, preference, experience, tragedy, quirk, nothing. It is all you and it is all purposed and it can all be used for great and glorious good. Maybe your best thing won’t draw a paycheck, but it is how you shine and glow and come to life and bless the world.”

“The best I offer the world is the truth—my highest gift. What the world does with it is not up to me. I am not in charge of outcomes, opinions, assessments. I am not in the business of damage control. When I present a fabricated version of myself—the self who knows it all, is ever certain, always steps strong—we all lose, because I cannot keep up with that lie and neither can you.”

She has some great, down-to-earth parenting advice (“The best parents can have children who self-destruct, and the worst parent can have kids who thrive.” And “Popularity is a terrible goal, because you have to lose yourself to find it.”).

And she recognizes the life-sustaining value or good friends. “It’s tricky, this new online connectivity, because it can become meaningful and true; it has given way to actual friendships I treasure. But it can also steal from friends on porches, the ones who truly know you, who talk about real life over nachos. Online life is no substitute for practiced, physical presence, and it will never replace someone looking you in the eye, padding around your kitchen in bare feet, making you take a blind taste test on various olives, walking in your front door without knocking.” She also says, “Nothing can happen—no tragedy, no suffering—that cannot be survived through the love of God and people. This is holy territory: a loyal friend on the other end of the line, a companion on your doorstep holding King Ranch chicken casserole because sometimes that’s all there is to do. When you say to me, ‘I will see you through this,’ I can endure. Between God’s strength and yours, I have enough. We are not promised a pain-free life but are given the tools to survive: God and people. It is enough.”

And to top it all off, she includes a recipe for Beef Bourguignon that includes an entire bottle of pinot noir. Which I’m making tonight. And which, as she promised, smells heavenly. Wish you were here to eat it with me and tell me all about whatever you read this month! Will you tell me anyway? (Even if you just read one chapter. Even if you didn’t like it. This is a guilt-free zone.) Looking forward to reading about the books you read (or didn’t) in the comments below.


On February 1st, I’ll share my selection for February and offer some choices for you to consider.

Prayer for the hormonal

Lord, there’s not much more aggravating than someone writing off what I’m feeling by ascribing it to hormones. And yet, my hormones are killing me. Maybe not literally. But I am so full of anger and so easily frustrated. It’s easier to yell than to listen, to slam things rather than simply complete a task. ...

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Lord, there’s not much more aggravating than someone writing off what I’m feeling by ascribing it to hormones.

And yet, my hormones are killing me.

Maybe not literally. But I am so full of anger and so easily frustrated. It’s easier to yell than to listen, to slam things rather than simply complete a task.

And my brain—it won’t stop. Like a pinball machine, thoughts ricochet in crazy trajectories, never slowing, never stopping. Until they’re gone. Like my memory seems to be. I can’t remember anything. I’m resentful and stubborn and short-sighted.

Oh, how I need You.

You are characterized by love, Lord, and that’s a million miles from what I’m feeling right now. I want to be filled with Your love. I want to show it to other people. In my rational moments, there is no doubt about this.

But in the heat of the moment, my emotions take over. I can’t pray; my thoughts are in chaos. I can’t rest, but I’m exhausted.

God, be my peace. Be the calm in the midst of the storm. I know this isn’t a tragic situation. I realize there are so many more important needs right now. But I need to connect with You. I need to feel Your soothing presence, to slow myself long enough to simply breathe You in. I need to remember that You are with me and that You are in control. I need to relax into an awareness of You. I need to let go of my hostility and tear down the walls I erect in these moments to keep everyone away.

Help me, Lord. Help me stop resisting You. Help me let You in. Help me put aside my irrational responses and abide in You.

In You. Because that is a place of serenity. Calm. An oasis of peace. A place where I am understood, where I am not overwhelmed, and where I can be fully me. Emotions and all. Good and bad. Somehow there is nothing I can do to push You away. You embrace me, hear me, hold me—and love me. No matter what I deserve, You simply offer me Your love.

And that—that knowledge—is what brings calm to my soul. Tears to my eyes, and a plentiful helping of humility. Grace. It’s what I needed—all that I need.

And it’s exactly who You are.

Thank You, Jesus. Amen.

Prayer for the control freak

Lord, in my head, I know that all control belongs to You—all power, all ability, all wisdom. But the human side of me wants to take control, solve problems, fix mistakes, right wrongs. I want to force the unruly, the frustrating, and the messy into submission. To conquer every challenge. Some days I feel desperate ...

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Lord, in my head, I know that all control belongs to You—all power, all ability, all wisdom. But the human side of me wants to take control, solve problems, fix mistakes, right wrongs. I want to force the unruly, the frustrating, and the messy into submission. To conquer every challenge. Some days I feel desperate to exert dominance, to subdue the chaos, to inflict structure over all the things in my life that feel out of control. Other days I want to pull my hair out as I confront countless inefficiencies and inadequacies.

I’m thankful for the abilities You’ve given me and for the way you have created me with the desire to do many things. I think that may be why it’s hard to not (attempt to) do/fix/control every single thing. Help me, God, not to overstep. Let me accomplish only the things You have given me to do, and let me step back graciously when it’s not meant for me. Even if I have the abilities needed to do the job. Even if I can find the time.

Because deep down, no matter how I act, I know that I can’t do it all. You didn’t create me to single-handedly fix every problem. If I could, there would be no need for a savior. If I were capable of solving every problem, I wouldn’t know how to lean on You. I wouldn’t see Your incredible capacity for kindness and mercy, Your invaluable wisdom, Your magnificence and glory and power and might and compassion and beauty and love.

I want to yield control to You—I feel that in my heart—but sometimes it’s hard to live it out. To do (or not do) what I should. I want to remember, always, just exactly who You are and who I am in relation to You. When I remember who You are and when I try to fathom the incomprehensible things You can do—have done and will do—it puts it all back in proper proportion. And even though I haven’t tried to exert control, I sense order being restored.

Because what You do is better. Your ways are smarter. Your goals are grander. Your love is deeper.

You, Lord, are my All-in-All. The All-sufficient One. The Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. You are enough. You are more than enough. I am here for You, and I offer myself to You. But because of how much I love You, I will also hold parts of me back. You can do Your work without my help—probably even better when I’m not constantly getting in the way. You solve problems, save lives, heal broken things, restore what has been lost. My illusions of “control” can’t do any of that.

All I can do is what You created me to do. Worship. Pray. Share with others all that You have given to me. And marvel at Your incredible capacity. At the ease with which You direct and control and solve and answer. At the way that You love me anyway. Even when I am out of control. Especially when I let go of control.

Thank You, Lord, for who You are. For all that You are. And for not turning me away even when I’m bossy and controlling and domineering. In Your sweetness, You simply remind me, gently, who You are. Which reminds me who I am, and helps me let go.

Amen.

Time to stop being a control freak

Recently, on a night when I was hosting my book club, my husband walked in to the living room and started gathering our dirty dessert plates. I started off by rolling my eyes—of course he wants to take credit for being this great husband. By the time everyone left, the kitchen was clean, and I ...

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Recently, on a night when I was hosting my book club, my husband walked in to the living room and started gathering our dirty dessert plates. I started off by rolling my eyes—of course he wants to take credit for being this great husband. By the time everyone left, the kitchen was clean, and I climbed into bed, furious.

As I sat there, I started wondering why this made me so angry. Was it about him getting “credit” for what he did? Was he showing off?

No. I was mad because I could have done the dishes. I was going to. And every time Tim does something like this, I take it as a rebuke. I read into his attitude anger, disgust—the conviction that he had to step up because I didn’t fulfill my obligations.

And then I thought about Tim. And realized there was no way that’s what he meant. He was probably just trying to be helpful. Not criticizing my lack of action.

OK, so maybe hormones played into this a bit. But still, even taking that into account, I knew I was out of line. (And for the record, I apologized.)

A couple weeks later, my daughter called me, nearly in tears. She was back at college, and she needed to find her black dress, and she had seen it that day, but couldn’t find it now. She had already looked through all her clothes. She was frustrated, didn’t like any of my suggestions, and took it out on me.

There may have been some stress and hormones going on here, too (hers and mine). But I hung up the phone, upset, ranting in my mind. I wasn’t there. What was I supposed to do? And why did I feel like such a failure? How could the fact the she lost a dress make me feel as though I had personally failed her?

These two moments keep coming back to my mind. So I’ve been examining them, examining myself, wondering what they say about me.

The simple answer? That I’m a control freak.

When my kids or husband call me that, it makes me angry. Because someone has to make sure things get done. Someone has to pay attention to the big picture, and be sure that the details are handled, too. If not me, then who?

What I’ve discovered in the past 22 years of parenting is that it’s a whole lot harder to fix something after it’s done wrong (or too late) than it is to just do it myself.

But what has that taught my kids? To lean on me and not do it themselves.

What has that taught my husband? That he can’t win, and it’s not worth it to try to help.

What has it done for me? Raised my blood pressure, primarily. The things it has done are not good. It’s exacerbated my stress, added to my too-long to-do list, kept me from getting enough sleep, made it hard for me to relax, and strained my relationships. The people in my life have to be frustrated with me, and I’m tired of feeling like I have to pick up the slack.

So I’m done.

No, I’m not running away. But my mantra this past couple weeks has been “Don’t do it.” Forget Nike. I need to design a new logo with this much-more-catchy tagline: DON’T DO IT.

When my son had a paper due recently, I nudged him all day. And evening. And night. To keep moving. To hurry up. I drove him crazy—and justified that he needed someone to prod him because he wasn’t moving fast enough. It’s entirely possible that some steam may have escaped out of my ears. And even though I’m certain he thinks I was being controlling, I nagged much less than I wanted to, and I didn’t sit down with him and try to help.

I’ll call that a win. Even if he didn’t finish the paper until almost 1 am.

When my husband finished loading the dishwasher without me asking, I didn’t go in and say, “I was gonna do that.” Instead, I finished reading a chapter of my book as I sipped on my coffee.

The fact that these are ridiculous examples just goes to show how skewed my thinking had become.

I want control. I want to make sure things work. I want to accomplish stuff, check things off my list. I want to achieve, excel, succeed. I want to be the best. Do the most. I want to make it happen.

But I cannot control everything. I wrote a little about that last week, and I’m still trying to learn this lesson.

I have tried to do too much, and in the long run, it hasn’t helped anyone. Least of all, myself.

So I find myself saying no. Not out loud, necessarily. But just telling myself—OK, shouting loudly in my head to be heard above the chaos that reigns in there—NO. Don’t do it. Don’t volunteer. Don’t take over. Don’t worry if it’s not done just the way you want it.

Do not control everything.

Because it’s impossible, and it only leads to more frustration, more feelings of being inadequate, more failures. And because it’s not my job. It’s God’s. The Only One who can bring change. Who can impose order.

The One whose job I need to stop taking.

When you want more

Last year I read several posts by bloggers I admire encouraging people to use the cloth napkins and burn the good candles—in other words, stop waiting for some vague perfect or special moment and enjoy what we have. There’s nothing to be gained from locking the nice dishes in ...

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[Originally posted at Internet Café Devotions.]

Last year I read several posts by bloggers I admire encouraging people to use the cloth napkins and burn the good candles—in other words, stop waiting for some vague perfect or special moment and enjoy what we have. There’s nothing to be gained from locking the nice dishes in the buffet or drinking from paper cups when crystal is available.

I loved and embraced that idea. Sometimes it felt kind of indulgent, but the money was already spent (or the gifts already given), so the only way to make them worth the money was to use them. Enjoy them.

So I did. And then I expanded that concept—I wanted only the best food. When servers delivered incorrectly prepared meals, I got huffy. I complained about inefficient service. I sulked when things didn’t go my way. I bought clothes because I read that you should love everything in your closet—if it didn’t make you happy, you should get rid of it. I drank better wines and only a certain kind of coffee. And so on.

And, truly, I’ve never felt less content.

This ugly feeling of dissatisfaction with anything less than perfect pervaded my internal world, as well. I started comparing myself to others. Instead of rejoicing for writers who experienced success, I felt cheated. I am unhappy with my weight, so I disliked those who were smaller and healthier and prettier. I became all-too-aware of the loose skin and crinkly lines under my eyes—and the lack of it on those who were younger. I started seeing all that was imperfect about me, about my life, and I felt sad. Insecure. As though I were a failure.

I’ve had a lot of good things happen in the last year. I have a wonderful life, a loving family, a huge network of friends, a career I love (actually, two), and nothing in the world to complain about. I released a book, got good reviews, and wrote another one.

So why was I so discontent?

Because I took something that could have been good… and then went too far. This is not what those articles suggested. They were talking about living life fully—embracing the moment, giving thanks for our blessings.

If I have nice things (possessions, relationships, opportunities), should I appreciate them? Of course. But I can’t let that turn into feelings of not-enough, or of wanting more.

I don’t need more to be happy. I need less. Less of me, at least. Less desire to single-handedly control the outcome of a situation. Fewer attempts to single-handedly fix things. Less of a conviction that I am capable. A diminished belief that I “deserve”, well, anything.

What do I need more of? God. More time with Him. More knowledge about Him and His love and His teachings. More reliance. More dependence. More trust. More hope.

Because what I know—what I’ve always known, but temporarily lost sight of—is that I can’t find God when I insist on having control. There’s no room for Him if I think I can do everything myself. The sad truth is that, no matter how much I try to do it all, I can’t. No matter how capable I think I am, I will always have limitations. The more I look at myself, the more I insist on appreciating the nicer things or noticing when others have more than I do, the less I see God. And the more flawed and incompetent and dissatisfied and unhappy I will feel.

God is more than enough. He really is. I know this in my heart, but my head is having trouble remembering. So while I don’t typically make new year’s resolutions, I am setting a goal for myself: I’m going to try to believe that.

I’m going to remind myself, every time I appreciate something good or beautiful in my life, to give thanks. To gratefully accept what was given but not actively pursue more. I’m going to send up prayers of thanksgiving every time I hear of someone else’s achievements and opportunities. I am going to think about what I have to give to the people I come into contact with, not how others can help me.

And I am going to surrender control. I will trust God to provide. To open doors. To navigate tricky paths. To improve impossible situations. To stop believing I need or deserve anything other than what I already have.

Because God always surpasses expectations. As soon as we let go of them.

Finally, believers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable and worthy of respect, whatever is right and confirmed by God’s word, whatever is pure and wholesome, whatever is lovely and brings peace, whatever is admirable and of good repute; if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think continually on these things [center your mind on them, and implant them in your heart]. The things which you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things [in daily life], and the God [who is the source] of peace and well-being will be with you.
~Philippians 4:8-9, Amplified Bible

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

Prayer for the new year

Oh, Lord, You are so beautiful. You are the Lord of Light. The Giver of Life. The Lover of my soul. The Hope of all generations. And yet we are living in a day that seems dark. Bleak and without redemption. We see hatred spewed online and in newscasts. Distrust in the unknown and unfamiliar. We’re noticing the ...

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Oh, Lord, You are so beautiful. You are the Lord of Light. The Giver of Life. The Lover of my soul. The Hope of all generations.

And yet we are living in a day that seems dark. Bleak and without redemption.

We see hatred spewed online and in newscasts. Distrust in the unknown and unfamiliar. We’re noticing the ugly, the divisive, the discouraging and demeaning.

We’re not looking in the right direction.

We’ve forgotten that You are in everything. That You can be found everywhere. That there is nowhere we can go to escape You. We cannot do anything too bad to be denied Your presence.

I know this. I do. And still I find myself retreating, harboring distrust, feeling uneasy. The world is scary. There is so much hurt. Anger and pain.

But You, Lord, are good. No matter how much bad I see, that does not detract from Your goodness. You feel the sorrow and despair. Know it. Redeem it. And ease the pain of it. You will never let go. You are supremely able. Completely in control. Utterly trustworthy. Thoroughly loving.

There is nothing that we will ever experience alone.

Lord, I don’t know what to do about all the hurt and hatred. I don’t know how to break addictions, heal divisions, restore relationships, bring peace, provide homes, or retrieve the lost.

All I can do is counter it with love.

And since You are the very definition of love, help me to lean on You when I feel too weak to stand alone. When I hunger for fairness, peace, or kindness, feed my parched soul with Your Word and nurture my faith with Your presence. Let me wholeheartedly believe that the world has not spun out of Your reach but that You are perfectly aware, perfectly able, and working towards something ultimately better than anything I can imagine now. When I doubt, assure me that You know more than I do. When I can’t see beauty, remind me that You see farther, hope deeper, love better.

Let me see You, Lord. Let us all see You. Let us remember who You are, and let us go into this year surrounded by Your beauty. Revived by Your strength. Renewed by Your hope. Exultant in possibility. Emboldened by Your truth. Rejoicing in Certainty that You love us and will never leave us.

Because You are God. And somehow, miraculously, defying all logic, You love us. And You are with us.

And that makes this new year one to celebrate. No matter what.

Amen.

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