April 18, 2017

Messy Beautiful Friendship Releases Today!

Friends, I am thrilled that this day has finally arrived--the release day of my latest book, Messy Beautiful Friendship: Finding and Nurturing Deep and Lasting Relationships! My hope and prayer is that this book will encourage, help, and challenge you to embrace the messy and beautiful parts of this gift called friendship.

To my great delight, I'm hearing from early readers that they are finding their own experiences (and insecurities) within the pages. I'm also hearing that the book has been useful to them for sparking raw, honest, and helpful conversations with other women about a subject we, for some reason, speak so little about. I hope you'll join with me in this exploration of the joys and complexities of friendship between Christian women!
Here are a few places you can grab a copy for you and a friend:
Amazon: Paperback | Ebook | Audiobook (I got to narrate!)
Barnes & Noble: Paperback | Ebook | Audiobook
Target: PaperbackAudiobook
Christianbook.com: Paperback | Ebook | Audiobook

Not sure if this book is for you? 
Below is the introduction, entitled "This One's for the Strugglers," which gives you a taste of what this book is about and why I've written it.

Many women privately wrestle with the complexities of adult friendship. Perhaps you are one of them.

I certainly have struggled with friendship over the years. I’ve known years of friendship drought. I’ve experienced conflicts in relationships— some of my own making—that have tied my insides in knots. I’ve received wounds so bitter that I’ve retreated to cocoon in the false security of isolation.
But I’ve also experienced deep relationships with other women that have enriched my life beyond measure, pointed me toward Christ, and challenged me to grow. These relationships have taught me that friendship is worth any struggle they have taken to discover and deepen.
No matter where your friendships currently are, you’ve probably found that our hearts never cease longing for fulfilling companionship. Friendship seems such a rarity to find and such a fragile joy when we’ve found it, doesn’t it?
As I’ve let slip that I’ve been writing a book on friendship, the response has been something akin to thirst. Some, in larger audiences, have audibly squealed, not because they have anticipated my words, but because they are bursting with need of relief from their private fears and struggles. In one small group setting, a woman practically jumped across the table at me, reaching, as it were, for help. She is one of many seeking an oasis in a desert.
We want friends, all of us do, and not just any friends. We want relationships where we know and are known at the deepest level. We want friendships that point us to grace and truth.
Curiously, however, we seem to be standing beside one another, holding identical longings, yet resolutely believing we’re alone in them.
The truth is we aren’t actually wondering alone and aimless in a desert; we’re practically tripping over each other as we grasp at our ideal dreams for friendship.
I’ve wondered at this. If we’re alike in our desires, what keeps us from turning to our left and to our right to cultivate friendship with those around us?
Well, it’s not that simple, you might say, as you point to your failed attempts, your open wounds, the boxes you’ve just unpacked in a new community, your insecurities and assumptions, or your overextended schedule.
Oh yes, I know all the reasons why it’s not so simple, because I’ve given them myself, and I know all too well how quickly we are to make those reasons into excuses and the excuses into thick walls. My wall has historically been built upon the excuse that I’m a pastor’s wife and women treat me differently because of it. This has been the excuse I’ve rehearsed in my mind while simultaneously taking the do-nothing, hope-for-the-best approach to friendship.
I have come to believe that our own excuses are one of our biggest obstacles to friendship, but I think there is one greater: we don’t have an understanding of what true friendship is or how God designed it. In the void, we’ve taken up a cultural definition that makes friendship unattainably idyllic and about self: Who is doing what for me? How do other people make me feel? Who is reaching out to me or including me? Who is honoring me?
Without a biblical understanding of friendship, we tend toward believing we’re unique and that everyone else must mold themselves around our personalities, our needs, and our schedules. As a result, we perpetually aspire to ideal friendship that is easy, comfortable, fun, and initiated by others. Perhaps this explains why we perpetually thirst in a desert.
As Christians, the Bible must inform our friendships.
In this book you hold in your hands, we will look together to God in His Word for our definition and practice of friendship. Spoiler alert: we’ll find that friendship is a byproduct of being more concerned with others than ourselves.
Hopefully you’ve picked up this book because you want deep friendships and you’re done with the excuses you’ve erected into walls of isolation. Perhaps you’ve been frustrated, discouraged, or disappointed by the realities of friendship and you need some help reengaging broken relationships or fostering new ones.
You’re the person I wrote this book for—for Christian women who need a fresh perspective on friendship, who need to know they’re not alone in the wrestling, and who want to know how to navigate relationships in a way that honors God. Together, we’ll shatter idealistic and unattainable dreams of friendship, embrace God-designed friendship, name threats to godly friendship, discover the means we have at our disposal to find and deepen friendships, learn what it takes to be a good friend, and learn how to receive the friendship of others.
I pray you find what I have discovered in my own life: friendship is messy, but even in its messiness, it is beautiful indeed. 
I'm grateful to have received these endorsements for Messy Beautiful Friendship:

"This book will minister to you no matter what season of life you are in and no matter what your current perspective on friendship may be."--Gloria Furman, author of Missional Motherhood and Alive in Him
"Finally, here is a timely word to women, using his Word as guidance, on how to do this crazy thing called friendship well." --Sara Hagerty, author of Every Bitter Thing is Sweet 
"Everyone who is a friend or who desires meaningful relationships should read this book! As one who has struggled with the messiness and beauty of finding and maintaining friendships, I found this book so helpful." --Kristie Anyabwile, pastor's wife 
"I want to read this book ten times over and give it to every woman I know."--Lore Ferguson Wilbert, author and speaker
I look forward to hearing from you after you've read it yourself! Tag me on Instagram when your book arrives in your hands!

Finally, friends, can you help me get the word out about this book? A simple tweet or Facebook post about the book's release, along with a link to the book landing page (http://www.gracecoversme.com/p/messy-beautiful-friendship.html), goes a surprisingly long way in spreading the word. Thank you!

Don't forget to grab your own copy! Much love to you.
Amazon: Paperback | Ebook | Audiobook
Barnes & Noble: Paperback | Ebook | Audiobook
Target: Paperback | Audiobook
Christianbook.com: Paperback | Ebook | Audiobook

April 11, 2017

Kathy Litton on Helping Grieving Friends

Friends, today is the last day to grab all the preorder goodies before the release of my new book, Messy Beautiful Friendship, which comes out next week! Click here if you don't want to miss out on the fun.
At some point all of us will be faced with the question of how we can best come alongside friends who are suffering or grieving. Grief can take a variety of forms, as can suffering, but what are ways we can minister to and comfort those around us?

I put those questions and more to my friend Kathy Litton. Kathy is someone I look up to and respect highly. She's a pastor's wife, a mom, and a grandmother, as well as someone who helps and resources pastor's wives and church planter's wives through her work.
At the age of 45, when her youngest two children were teenagers, Kathy lost her husband in a terrible car accident. I asked her to share her story and also to tell us:
  • How did friends come alongside you in ways that really ministered to you?
  • How did the book of Job illustrate your grief and also the unhelpful responses of others?
  • How can grief or loss affect friendships?
  • How can we respond to our friends with grace when their grief has changed them?
Her answers are heartfelt and deeply wise. Listen or watch below:


March 31, 2017

Lisa Jo Baker On Being Never Unfriended

A few months back, I found out that I wasn't the only one releasing a book on friendship in April! Lisa Jo Baker, community manager for Incourage and author of Surprised by Motherhood, has written Never Unfriended: The Secret to Finding and Keeping Lasting Friendships, releasing next week. At first I felt discouraged and inadequate that our books are on the same topic, but then I remembered that the Lord knew we were writing these books at the same time, and so perhaps friendship is a theme He had in mind for His daughters all along.
In the spirit of true friendship--cheering rather than competing--we recently chatted about our books and about how writing them has changed our own perspectives on our real-life friendships. I really enjoyed talking with Lisa Jo, and I hope you'll preorder her book, and mine too, and see if perhaps the theme of friendship is something the Lord wants to use in your life!

Watch the video below to discover:
  • What her book is about and the beautiful reason why it's called Never Unfriended
  • What she wants women to understand about friendship after speaking with countless women
  • The two main things we do as women that hinder our ability to make and deepen friendships
  • The advice you can easily implement today that will help you in friendship


For more on Lisa Jo, find her at lisajobaker.com or follow her on Twitter or Instagram.

March 24, 2017

Ruth Chou Simons on Hurts in Friendship

I have been a fan of Ruth Chou Simons for a long time now, so it was with great joy that I received this endorsement from her regarding my forthcoming book, Messy Beautiful Friendship: "This book inspires us toward more meaningful friendships and a deeper understanding of the God who brings us together. I'm personally grateful for Christine's gentle and helpful exhortation."
It was perhaps even a greater treat to interview Ruth yesterday on the subject of friendship. Ruth is a writer, artist, and shoppe owner at GraceLaced. She's also a wife and a mom to six boys (yes, I asked her about food, laundry, and keeping the bathroom clean!). Her first book, GraceLaced, releases in September, and it combines her beautiful artistry with profound truths about God.

When I chatted with Ruth, I wanted to hear specifically about how she's dealt with the "messy" in her friendships. How has she responded to wounds? How has she learned to forgive? How has she known when she's needed to address offenses and when she's needed to overlook them? We chatted about all this and more, including why we need to know the distinction between relationships and friendships, and what her greatest piece of advice is regarding friendship. Watch our chat below or click here to watch it on YouTube:


As Ruth and I talked about together, hurt is inevitable in friendship, and friendship isn't as easy as we often believe it should be. These are themes I explore in my book, which is coming out in just a few more weeks! Don't miss out on the preorder goodies, including the first two chapters immediately in your inbox, an interview I did with Jen Wilkin on friendship, and a few videos with my real life friends and my real life husband (not that I have an online one..). Get all the preorder details here, and while you're preordering Messy Beautiful Friendship, grab Ruth's as well. It's like a gift for your future self in April and September!

March 16, 2017

Jess Connolly on Comparison in Friendship

Jess Connolly joined me yesterday to chat about comparison and competition between women, especially those women who are beside us in our real, everyday lives (although we did touch on social media use as well).
Jess is a champion of women and for Jesus. In fact, she's encouraged me--even though we've never met in person--by endorsing my second book, From Good to GraceShe's labored alongside many women, so I wanted to hear from her how she's faced those sneaky temptations of comparison and competition, and what she's learned about friendship in the process. Listen to the audio of our chat or read the transcript below. (I transcribed it for you, dear reader, because there is a bit of a reverberation when Jess speaks....we were on the fly since our Facebook Live chat didn't work.)

CH: Thanks so much for your time. I can't wait to hear everything you have to say about friendship, women, and comparison. Can you tell us a little about yourself?

JC: I have four kids and am married to a church planter. We live in Charleston, SC, and we're church people. I'm your biggest fan, because your first book changed my life. Everyone gave it to me, and I became a big Christine Hoover fan.

CH: That's how I feel about talking to you! I was nervous! But I wanted to talk to you because I see you celebrating women so well. You've been a huge champion for me, even though you don't even know me. I've always appreciated that about you. Because you work so much with other women and you are that way is why I wanted to talk to you today about friendship and comparison. You've probably learned so much through working with other women. You were a co-founder of Influence Network, a co-founder of She Reads Truth, and you co-wrote a book for women, Wild and Free. That's a lot of "co's." I'm sure there have been times where you've struggled with comparison and competing.

I have absolutely struggled with it. I think we all have our own flavor of comparison. I will say that mine isn't social media, but you talk about close up women? That's a different story. I compare myself  most to other women that I'm in close proximity with specifically regarding their gifting. I am a "friend" girl, I'm a lover of women, I'm the kind of person who when you tell your dream to, I say, "Let's do it! I'll do it with you! What do you want to do? Let's make it happen!" I find that this beautiful thing that God's put in me--seeing how He's gifted His daughters--can turn into a gross thing where their gifting is all I can look at.

One of the earliest relationships God used to root out comparison for me is my sister. I have two sisters, one who is three years older than me and one who is 11 years younger than me. My older sister on the outside is seemingly everything that I'm not. I'm 5'4" and curvy with blonde hair, and she's 5'9" and 100 pounds soaking wet with brown hair. We are totally different looking things. We think we're really alike, because we know each other, but if you met us, most people think we're really different. I"m really structured, a big planner, and she's a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants kinda gal. We're really different mothers: she never raises her voice. She's super sweet. I always say she's like Snow White. She's not put on, but always happy. I'm melancholy and heavy and a deep thinker. When I was growing up, all I wanted to be was Katie. God used it to lead me to the Lord because she loved Jesus and said, "He's the way," and I said, "Great! I'm in! I'll follow Him too."

I feel like because I had to fight so early on for my own identity and to know who God made me to be, that relationship helped me a ton.

I think the world's answer to comparison is to tell you why you're OK. Oh, your friend has a big house! Well, that's OK, you have a dog. Or your friend is really pretty. Well, that's OK because you're really smart.

The Lord's answer, I think, is to take it too far. When you see something in a woman, encourage her in it. And if you see that attribute and you don't have it, you can think, "Am I supposed to have it?" And if I'm not supposed to have it, then be blessed that she does. We could be so jealous of it, or we could let her bring it into our life. Go to her and say, "You seem to be so joyful. Could you help me with that?'

CH: Don't you think, though, that our common response to people in our life that we really admire is to shrink back from them because they seem to have it so together?

JC: I think that's one response. Hayley and I wrote about this in Wild and Free. She said, "I tend to shrink back and get small." I said "I make noise." When I feel insecure, I enter a room and am like, "Look at me over here!" So I have to watch the other end of the spectrum. If there is a woman that I believe is going to reject me or there is something about her that I feel a tiny bit insecure about, it's my tendency to think, "I don't need you! I'll go over here and make a bunch of noise and it's fine. No big deal!" Instead, I need to get quiet and calm and find out what is going on in my heart and ask myself if I'm loving her well.

CH: Flipping that, are there times when you realize other women are intimidated by you because of your success and your giftedness? How have you handled that?

JC: I don't always do it right. I do struggle with that a lot. And not even because I'm so gifted but because I'm the kind of girl that doesn't have a filter. I have a harder time keeping quiet and buttoned up. I think sometimes specifically with a business, I'm online a lot and that can look like success, but really I'm just sort of saying what's happening.

If people seem intimidated, my response has been two things at the same time: First, I must go to the Lord and ask Him, "Who am I made to be and why am I here?" I'm not made for their praise or their acceptance. Sometimes I cry to my husband about how women might think I'm too Jesus-y. Or I don't always know who I can celebrate wins with. Even with my husband sometimes, I don't want to be too much, because church planting is so slow and arduous and there's no launch day. There is, but it's not extreme. So I have to constantly go to the Lord and say, "Well, this is for you anyway. It's not for them. It's for you."

The second thing is putting on a massive dose of gentleness and humility. The newest thing the Lord's been teaching me is that I'm not too much for Him. Sometimes I actually am too much for people. I shouldn't feel insecure about leaning more into who God made me to be, but sometimes my voice is too loud. Sometimes I do need to get quiet and get gentle and not say everything. Sometimes it is too much for other people.

CH: What do you mean?

JC: Let's put it this way: If I have a friend struggling with infertility, she's not the first person I'm going to send a picture of a positive pregnancy test to, you know? And so I would say that we need to apply that to all areas of our life. We wouldn't call that "shrinking back" or "hiding our joy." We could call that loving her well.

I don't think we hide what God is doing. I don't think we hide our praise of Him. I just think we love people well.

CH: So how do you specifically celebrate friends and draw out what God is doing in them, even if they would think, "Oh, I look at Jess and I think what I'm doing is very small?" Are there specific ways that you try to celebrate others?

JC: Success for me in life is knowing my friends' coffee drink. If sometime in the last six months or so, I've brought it to them without them asking, that's success for me. If I have three women whose coffee order I know and on a random Tuesday can pop in with it, then we're winning.

On top of that, there are two ways I celebrate friends and invite friendship: I ask them how their hearts are, and I confess to them how my heart is doing, even if they don't ask.

Especially in church ministry, that's often an issue--that others don't ask the leader how their heart is. Many women ask, "How do I find women who love me well?" I say, "You love them well and you ask them to love you well." When I get done with a conversation and they stand up to go, I say, "Next time, it would mean a lot to me if you asked me how my heart is."

CH: Do you actually say that?

JC: I literally do.

CH: I love that. I would be afraid to say that, but that's what I want people to know sometimes.

JC: They always say, "Oh, I just assumed you have people who ask you that. You have your husband and you're in ministry." I say, "I want to give you the eggs in my basket." That's the phrase I use. "I want you to be able to hold them with me. I want to tell you how I'm doing, and that I need you." I think we empower people by being needy with them, by saying how we could use prayer, or asking them to take our kids, or asking them to pick something up for us at the store. When you say that to a friend, they're usually more than glad to do it.

CH: As women, I think that's our biggest struggle in friendship. We're afraid to say, "I'm in need." You just wrote an Instagram post where you talked about almost berating yourself in the middle of running a marathon because you needed help from others. How do we get past that thought that says, "Don't be that person. Don't be needy. Be a giver, not a needy person?"

JC: By acting on it a few times and realizing that it blesses people. We all know people who know how to be needy. I think we're all scared that we're that person. I think we ask our friends: "Am I being that person? Did I take it too far?" Then let them speak into it.

The marathon is such a great example because I was saying inwardly to myself, "I don't want anyone to feel this." I don't want anyone else to feel the weight of it. I wonder if you've felt that way about writing books?

CH: This is how I feel about everything. Why would you hide the weight you're carrying? I know why I do it, but why do you do it?

JC: I think I didn't want my friends to have to cheer me on. I didn't want to be the needy one. I think anytime we're stepping out in leadership, we don't anyone to say, "Maybe you can't handle this." The truth is I can't handle it. I have to do it in community. The marathon is the perfect example. I was going to run it with the friends I'd planned to run it with and not tell anyone else. It was going to be no big deal. I'll have a meeting right afterwards, it will totally be fine. I have a photo shoot in the afternoon, no big deal, it's great. That's what I told myself.

The Lord knew better. He let me have a complete emotional breakdown in the middle of the marathon. My husband of course said, "I'm coming, no matter what." My friend Rachel said, "I'm coming, no matter what." Sure enough, ten miles in, I was weeping and asked them to run the whole rest of the way with me. It was a great reminder. If we're going to do things for the Lord that are outside of ourselves, we're going to be needy.

CH: A lot of times we look at others who are doing a lot and think they have it all together. I think it's good for everyone to realize that we're all in the same boat. It's just that we have different giftings. If we can look at other people like that and say, "Jess has these giftings and God is using her. I need to use my giftings, though they may be different." But we all need each other's support in that, no competition, no shrinking back. We also need to tell each other the truth about what it's like to walk in those giftings.

JC: Yes, if anyone is listening and they think, "Oh, I'm just doing laundry," well I need that too. I need the people on a random Tuesday maybe more than I need someone during a marathon.

We have to continually praise the Lord for what we have. If we really believe God, even if we have less in comparison in an area, can we just say, "God, I have you! You've redeemed me. You've given me a purpose and a hope, and I'm going to call this blessed and I'm going to call this abundance." When I look at another woman, I want to love her well. And I'm not loving her well if I'm saying, "She shouldn't have that," or "She has that, but why don't I?"

With social media comparison, people say, "Just don't follow that person on social media." But I say maybe press in and look at her life and thank God for it. Or maybe ask God for eyes to really see her as a human. Press into why you're comparing yourself. Know this isn't an Instagram issue that can be solved when you unfollow, because then when you go to church, you'll compare yourself to the person right next to you. We need to press in and see why we're responding the way we are.

CH: We all have the same hopes and hurts. We're the same. It doesn't matter what our lifestage  is or whether we're married or not. I think pressing in to actually getting to know people who you've assumed things about really helps. Jess, any last words about friendship? What is your biggest piece of advice to women about friendship?

JC: Be the friend you want. If you want a friend, don't spend one moment bemoaning that you don't have them; go be one! If you want someone to speak life into you, go speak life into someone else. If you say, "No one's asked me how they can pray for me in the last six months," ask someone else how you can pray for them. If you need someone to help you with your kids, go serve someone else and help with theirs.

I don't think that's a cop out. I don't think that's pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps. I think that's how we build community. Someone has to start. We're all leaders. We're all ambassadors.

Find Jess on Instagram (@jessaconnolly), Twitter (@jessaconnolly), or at www.jessconnolly.com. You can also order her book, "Wild and Free" here: http://amzn.to/2msVGcH

The release date for my book is a month away! Preorder Messy Beautiful Friendship and then head here to grab preorder goodies, including an interview with Jen Wilkin on when friendship goes wrong and the first two chapters of the book!