December 16, 2014

2014 in Books

Don't even get me started on books unless you're prepared for a long conversation and lots of exclamation marks. I love to read and, when I find a gem, I tell everyone I know about it, which is why I always end the year with a "best of" list on my blog. So I can blab about books! 

Two notes before I get to the list: my reading taste is almost entirely nonfiction (although I read highly-recommended fiction) and these aren't necessarily books published in 2014, just books I read in 2014. And one more thing: I love recommendations! If you have some favorites, please let me know about them in the comments below.

Book I've Recommended Most This Year: The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson

Wilkerson uses the stories of four African-Americans living between 1920-1970 to tell the story of all African-Americans living in those decades. She follows their migration from the South to the West and North and details why they migrated. Reading this history very much informed me of the present and helped me make sense of things like Ferguson. 

A Book I Enjoyed For Its Beautiful Writing and Profound Message: Every Bitter Thing is Sweet by Sara Hagerty

Sara used to live in Charlottesville, so I had the privilege of meeting her once. In that brief encounter, I sensed a deep, still soul who has a intimate relationship with God. This book is her soul written out on paper. She describes the thoughts and emotions and wrestlings that have gone in her life through marriage difficulties and infertility. I was left with lasting imagery of what it means that I am adopted by God.

A Book That Scratched My History Itch: The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for God at the 1936 Berlin Olympics

The Boys in the Boat gives a glimpse of a sliver of history, going back and forth between blue-collar rowers at the University of Washington in the 1930's and Germany during the same time. When the two intersect, it's fascinating. The boat races were so well written that I felt as if I were there.

Book I Most Enjoyed Reading With My Kids: Wonder by R.J. Palacio

My boys liked this book so much that we listened to it as an audio book after reading it. Wonder follows the story of a young boy born with facial deformities and his encounters with other people. The story is told from different characters' perspective--the boy, his sister, kids in his class, even the bully--which gives readers an understanding on why people do what they do and teaches empathy. The book had a few things that were not told from a Christian perspective, but it provided lots for us to talk about, and the advantages of reading it far outweigh those things I didn't like.

A Book That Influenced My Ministry: The Measure of Success by Carolyn McCully and Nora Shank
I didn't love the structure of this book, but the foundational premise of this book has definitely stuck with me, which is that every woman works and that we must encourage women to work to the glory of God. It gave me a perspective on the women in my church that has been really helpful and has, I think, influenced some conversations I've had about women and work.

Just Read It: The Insanity of God by Nik Ripken
This book may have been on last year's list, but I don't care, I'm putting it on this one too. I loved it that much. I loved it because not only does it give a picture of what God is doing in "closed" countries around the world but it puts a mirror up to the American church in a non-guilt-trip kind of way. A must read.

Short But Super Impactful: Humility by Andrew Murray

This book is a classic, but I've just gotten around to reading it, and I think I underlined the entire thing. Humility explains how Jesus was humble and how we must be humble in order to be like Jesus. There were countless applications for me in my role as a pastor's wife.

Two Books I Can't Wait to Read in 2015: Fierce Convictions by Karen Swallow Prior and Women of the Word by Jen Wilkin

Who knows, maybe these two will be on my "best of" list next year!


The Year of the Book
It seems 2014 has been the year of the book for me. I released an ebook for pastor's wives in May, called Partners in Ministry, contributed to a book for moms called Mom Enough (which you can get for free in pdf form), and just last week released a free ebook for church planting wives through Send Network called Partners in Planting. I invite you to grab one, two, or all three of these books, and I sincerely hope that they encourage you. I am, however, most excited to see From Good to Grace released in March! Eek! If you're as excited as me, you can preorder your copy from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Christianbook.com.

More Book Lists
If you love the year-end book lists as I much as I do, you might want to check out my favorites from past years:

2013 in Books
2012 in Books
2011 in Books

Happy Reading!

December 12, 2014

Partners in Planting: A Free eBook for Church Planting Wives

Sometimes I feel as if I hold a miraculous secret inside, the secret that active faith is more beautiful and more fun the more stomach-dropping it is. It’s not so much a secret as it is what God’s been whispering in the pages of His Book all along: I’m faithful. You can trust me. Come, go with Me!

We think of faith as hard work, as a burdensome calling, but it’s really being willing to sit peacefully in uncertainty, knowing that we’ve accepted an invitation to watch God show up and work in our freefall.
I’ve discovered this cherished secret through the profoundly difficult and profoundly sweet task of church planting. I tend to call myself a “church planting wife”, but in actuality, although I have played a different role than my husband has, I too am a church planter. I’ve helped labor to bring forth this baby, I’ve helped it find its legs, and I’ve imprinted part of my DNA on its heart. My husband proclaims over this baby and shepherds it as it grows, while I come alongside, often in quiet, unseen ways that are vital nonetheless. That is my great, kingdom-building calling: to be his “alongside”.

All church planters need their “alongside”. And the “alongside” so desperately need encouragement and support, as I’ve discovered throughout our six-year laboring. We need to be reminded, as we serve tirelessly and fight discouragement and wonder if the uncertainty will ever go away, that the whispered secret really is true: God is faithful. We can trust Him. Let’s press on!

Church planting wives, can I remind you of that today?

Because I know how you feel.

Full of faith.
Full of fear.
Exhilarated.
Exhausted.
Bold.
Insecure.
Excited.
Discouraged.

All of these, sometimes all in one day.

But this is true, whether our emotions are or not: God is faithful. You can trust Him in your freefall. Go with Him!

I hope by now many of you have read The Church Planting Wife, but I've wanted to come alongside you even more as you are alongside your husband. For those reasons, I’ve compiled an ebook, Partners in Planting: Help and Encouragement for Church Planting Wives, which is newly available for free (!!) on Send Network. Click here to get yours

Most of all, through these words, I hope you are reminded of the joy and blessedness of following our God in faith. 

Press on, dear sister! God is faithful. You can trust Him.

December 9, 2014

We Wait

Time was full, ready to give birth.

A promise had been given and many had whispered of it afterward when they walked along the road and when they tucked their children in at night and when the world groaned with labor pains.

“Through your Seed all the nations shall be blessed.” (Genesis 12:3)

There were years and there were signs of pregnancy: examples and types, heralds and spokesmen, lone voices.

Foreshadowing.

And waiting. Waiting upon waiting. For some, too long waiting on seemingly empty promises.

Habakkuk, one lone voice among the waiting, cried out in the night: “O LORD, how long shall I cry, and You will not hear?” (Habakkuk 1:2)
Violence, plundering, strife, and iniquity prevailed. Perverse judgment proceeded. The waiting people were suffering. How long, O Lord?

God called to mind the original promise. “Look among the nations and watch--be utterly astonished! For I will work a work in your days which you would not believe, though it were told you.” (Habakkuk 1:5)

And then there was silence. Physical eyes saw the continued rise of strife and struggle. Of evil.

The people were waiting, the whispered promise almost forgotten.

But God.

He was silent, but He was working, knitting in the womb of time.

His hands upended the world map, raising first the Babylonians to conquer and scatter God’s people, who in turn built synagogues in far-flung outposts. Then the Greeks rose to center-stage, bringing with them a love for words and ideas and creating a common world language. Finally, the Romans appeared, conquered the known world, building roads and throwing open borders.

Outpost synagogues where people gather to hear news and ideas? In a language all can understand? Brought by messengers through open borders and able roads?

“For I will work a work in your days which you would not believe, though it were told you.”

The womb of time grew heavy under God’s steady hand.

“When the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son . . .” (Galatians 4:4)

The womb of time burst open. Silence gave way to the Word. The cries from lone voices of long ago rang with truth, and their prophetic utterances fell in quick succession--born of a virgin, a son of Bethlehem, wrapped in swaddling clothes.

The angels sang. The wise men sought. Mary pondered. And then . . .

He was hidden because Herod was hunting.

Silence.

Waiting.

Time seemed pregnant again.

Finally, a lone voice broke the decades-old silence, proclaiming to anyone who would listen that the kingdom of God was at hand.

The water turned to wine. The fish and loaves multiplied. And The Word started speaking, but His words were so . . . unexpected. The crowds pressed in on Him, trying to knit Him according to their desires. He fled them, knowing their expectations and that time was premature.

John, in prison, sent men to Jesus with one question: “Are you the Coming One, or do we look for another?” (Matthew 11:3)

Violence, plundering, strife, and iniquity prevailed. Perverse judgment proceeded. The waiting people were suffering. How long, O Lord?

But God was knitting in the womb of time. The labor pains grew increasingly intense; those who had eyes to see and ears to hear followed them closely. Jesus vocalized what was to be birthed-- “I have come that you might have life.”--and the means by which God would do so.

Death.

The crowds gathered, waving palm branches over their expectations, but soon after turned away, having misunderstood the whispered promise.

“For I will work a work in your days which you would not believe, though it were told you.”

There would be no earthly kingship. There would be no toppling of Roman rule.

There would only be death.

Are you the Coming One, or do we look for another?

Silence and grief. Waiting and helplessness. Scattering and sorrow.

But Jesus.

He labored unto death, tore the veil from top to bottom, and rebuilt the temple in three days.

The angels announced. Women ran to tell. The Holy Spirit fell. And then . . .

Time became pregnant again.

A whispered promise. “I will come again and receive you to Myself.” (John 14:3)

Waiting. We are a people waiting.

The world has filled up again with darkness. Violence, plundering, strife, and iniquity prevail. Perverse judgment proceeds. People are suffering.

How long, O Lord?

“For I will work a work in your days which you would not believe, though it were told you.”

And God labors, bringing forth the fullness of time, when time will give way to eternity.

Until then, we wait in perpetual Advent, with eyes open to see and ears cocked to hear.

The labor pains are increasing, reminding of us His words: “Surely I am coming quickly.” (Revelation 22:20)

The waiting people, whispering the promise to our children, say, “Even so, come, Lord Jesus!”

December 4, 2014

A Single Serving: An Interview with Lore Ferguson

Lore Ferguson is a graphic artist, writer, and speaker who is passionate about the gospel and the Church. Her stated goal in her work is “to see a generation of dechurched, second generation Christians, or the ragged and hurt, come to the joy of what the gospel means deep down.” Being a single woman covenanted to a church with many singles, she often uses her gifts to exhort both singles and church leaders to value the unique contributions that singles bring to gospel work. Recently, I asked Lore for her insights on these unique contributions.
 
How do you see God using you and your spiritual gifts to edify the Body? How do you see Him using your singleness as a means of edifying the Body?

I ask the question: what’s in my hand? and then I use it. Where there are needs I can meet, I meet them. I serve in our connections ministry, as a covenant membership affirmation leader, and our repentance and reconciliation ministry—all places where I was profoundly affected by the gospel when I first came to our church.

I’ve also found rich blessings and deep wrestling in my living situation. I don’t want to wait for marriage to begin caring for and shepherding in my home, so I live with four girls all younger than me. We live very simply and intentionally in our home—it is not perfect, but it is a peaceful place. We pray for one another, ask hard questions, keep accountable, confess, laugh, and share life together. Maybe it’s my way of being set in a family, but I think it’s also God’s way. The mark of Jesus’ ministry on earth was one of hospitality, inviting others in, instead of closing them out. Singleness gives me the opportunity to live my entire life like that.

What are hindrances or challenges that single women face as they attempt to use their spiritual gifts in the local church?

One thing I love about my church regarding women is our leadership intentionally says, “We want to find every opportunity to say yes to you, instead of every reason to say no.” I find it to be the same with singles.

The challenges for me are primarily internal. I disqualify myself before even asking the question, and I find it very common among single men and women. This is part of the fall, but it’s also part of a culture speaking so highly of marriage, and giving so much air time to it; singles can feel like an afterthought. It doesn’t help that there are two caricatures given to singles (the man-boy and the embittered-girl) that aren’t explicitly debunked within the local church. There are plenty of articles about it, but on the ground, within the local church, those caricatures should be identified for what they are: exaggerations of things we already know need to be submitted to Christ.

How can church leaders help single women walk in their gifts in the church? How can they elevate the gift and calling of singleness?

The truth is there are few who have been called to a life of singleness, or have the gift of singleness as Paul talked about it. But another truth severely misunderstood in Church culture is that whatever my portion for today is, that is God’s gift to me. It isn’t that he’s given the gift of marriage to others, and I’m the giftless kid in the corner. Today my gift is singleness. There’s a rhetoric in Church culture that assumes every single is waiting to be married, which may be true in some respects, but it doesn’t help us to treasure these days as the gift they are. In order for us to know these days are a gift, though, we have to see singles being utilized as they are, not waiting for a future version of them to materialize through marriage.

Another way is to simply pastor your single women well. We obviously don’t have husbands, and many of us don’t have fathers or brothers taking an active interest in our lives. Don’t be afraid of us, we’re not the Proverbs 7:10 woman, and if you treat us like we are, you’re perpetuating the problem. I have four pastors/elders at my church who press toward me, ask me hard questions, point out sin when they see it; they are utterly unimpressed with me and unintimidated by my gender. They see me as a person and pastor me as such.

What do married women in the church need to know about single women in the church that would help cultivate community and unity?

Everyone is waiting for something. One of the sad sides of social media is it can send the message that we have everything we want: husband, kids, house, vacation, etc. One of the most life-changing things my married sisters have done for me is let me enter into their brokenness, their waiting. Barrenness, husbands who struggle to lead well, wives who struggle to submit well, kids who challenge them, no time for quiet, etc.. I’ve learned as I’ve entered into their waiting with them—praying with them, rejoicing with them, mourning with them—that we are not so different after all.

How can married women in the church encourage single women specifically in their singleness?

We want you to help us! I know that might sound overwhelming to a young mother with three kids and a tired, hardworking husband, but sometimes we need you in our corner entering into the work of dating. Even if nothing comes of your matchmaking efforts, it is such a comfort to know we are thought of in that respect.

Another thing that helps is when your husbands are in our corners too. Prolonged singleness can lead to a severe lack of balance in male/female relationships. I’m not in college or a young adult ministry, so having strong men around me has to take a very intentional ask from me. It means so much to us when godly, trustworthy men care for us. There seems to be much fear (and perhaps rightfully so) about the possibility of sexual transgression, but when that drum is beaten, it sends the message to single women that we are dangerous or all men are predators. That’s not true of the men in my life and they know it’s not true of me—but the only way we can know that is to enter into true communion. Married women help us by trusting us to receive counsel and leadership from their husbands. This takes deep intentionality on the parts of all parties. It is work, yes, but it is a worthwhile work.

You wrote an ebook, A Single Serving. Why did you write it, and what are the main points you hope readers take away?

I compiled the book after an article I wrote at Christianity Today on the subject seemed to resonate with so many. I tapped those leaders to contribute because I’ve seen them leading in wise, capable, and profound ways not in spite of their singleness, but because of their singleness. The caricature that single guys are man-boys playing video games and watching porn, and single girls are bitter and desperate for their Prince Charming is just not the case from what I’ve seen. Nearly every unmarried person I know is fighting the fight well, with purpose and integrity, joy and hard work. Are there some making unwise choices with their time and minds? Yes. But it doesn’t help for me to call attention to that ad nauseum. It is better for me to show them a better way. That was my purpose for the ebook.

What are your greatest joys as a single woman in your church?

Oh, goodness. I joy in the reality that today is a gift from God. However I choose to spend or squander it, it’s his gift for his glory. I love my life, though it is not the life I dreamed of, or even imagined at the beginning of this year. God continually brings me through difficult seasons and joy-filled seasons, and I don’t begrudge him at all. I have time to invest in my home and my girls, friendships with married couples, friendships with guys, working on time-consuming projects, studying God’s word, writing, speaking. Do I pray he gives me the equal gift of marriage someday? Yes, absolutely. I long to partner with a husband for the cause of the gospel. But I won’t wait until marriage to do the things I want to do in marriage: practice hospitality, generosity, care for our home and others. Those things start now and I find rich joy in them.

You can connect with Lore on her blog, Sayable, or through Twitter. Her ebook, A Single Serving, is available here.


December 2, 2014

When We Try to Board Up Our Hearts

When my husband and I first got married, we lived in a tiny house a few blocks removed from the seminary we were both attending. We had adventures in that house and made many a memory.
Our first Christmas, the gifts I'd so carefully purchased and wrapped were robbed from under our tree, along with all our other valuables in the house. We had little money, so the thieves didn't get much aside from new underwear I'd wrapped up for my husband and some cookie cutters I'd picked out for my best friend.

The couch barely fit in our little box of a living room--it literally touched wall on both sides. One night as we watched TV together, we heard gun shots just outside the window. I immediately threw myself on the floor, while my dear husband rushed to the door's peephole hoping for a glimpse of the action. He was too late; the two guys shooting at one another had slipped away.

We lived, as you can now well imagine, in a hotbed of crime. When you're in love and newly married, however, you see all these things with rose-colored glasses. Our poor parents came to visit with eyes wide open, I'm sure, but to their credit they didn't say anything until we'd moved away.

The only thing that bothered me about that house was the grocery store around the corner. We drove by this certain grocery store every time we went to church, and I'd noticed that one day it was open and then the next the store's windows were boarded up, as if waiting for an impending tornado. After many months of boarded up windows, weeds started pressing their way through the concrete in the parking lot and the sign outside fell into disrepair. I assumed, like everyone else, that it had closed down.

Then the grocery store appeared on the news. People walking in the vicinity of the grocery store had reported strange smells and, upon investigation, the authorities had discovered the grocer, upon receiving a bad report from the health department, had abandoned the store by boarding the windows but without removing any food. The meat, the vegetables, the fish, the fruit--all of it had been sitting for months, attracting any creatures that could find their way into the store.

The authorities spent many months cleaning out that store, and eventually they dismantled the building because of health concerns.

I've thought about that store quite often in the years since we moved away. What was that grocer thinking was going to happen when he boarded those windows and walked away? I wonder if, in his anger about the health department's report, he felt he got revenge? I doubt it. What were the cleaners and authorities thinking when they had to go in and face such disgust? Perhaps they felt it was too far gone, a helpless situation.

A few weeks ago, when accusations of rape at UVA ripped open our community and its ripples included the revealing of long-held secrets and pain, I thought about that grocery store. I thought about how pain can't be boarded up and walked away from because it will make itself known eventually. I thought about how anger and revenge and selfish acts affect a whole community and how light tends to find the darkness and reveal its secrets. I thought about how no heart is too far gone for God's gracious healing, even the most untended heart. Wouldn't we better off running to the Light, as Jesus calls Himself, than trying to mask and stuff the pain? Boarding up our hearts, whether from vengeful anger or fear, only leads to rot and decay.

I haven't been back to that neighborhood for many years, but I imagine there is something new on that lot where the grocery store once stood. No more boarded up windows, trying to hide the disgust and the smells. The old has gone, the new has come, and it all started long ago when someone pulled the first nail out of a plank of plywood and let the light in.

November 28, 2014

God Doesn't Complain (About You)

God doesn't complain. That thought struck me one day recently as I was driving, and I couldn't help but smile and tap my steering wheel to the song on the radio. I'd read that morning in Zephaniah about God being a singing God, a delighting-in-us God, and I'd been thinking about it ever since, trying to wrap my mind around how that could be in light of my sin. Of course, it can only be in light of Christ that God could look on me with smiling eyes. All the more reason to smile and tap my steering wheel.
Because if God delights in me--and Scripture says He does--He doesn't complain about me. He's not turning to the Holy Spirit with crossed arms and grumbling about my behavior. And He's not commiserating with Jesus about my constant needs and questions.

This was quite a revelation to me, something I'd never considered before. And it led to some more revelations about what my response might be in light of the truth that God doesn't complain. You can jump over to Incourage to read the thought process God took me through that day in the car. 

Before you go, however, I want to announce the winners of the giveaway of the three advance copies of my new book, From Good to Grace. These lucky ladies will receive their copies in February before the wide release in early March:

Melissa Martin
Cristina Galloway
Mandy Blank

Congratulations you three! If you didn't win but would like a copy, you can preorder yours on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Christianbook.com

Happy Thanksgiving to my all my stateside friends!

November 25, 2014

Lessons in Love From Raising a Child with Asperger's

When my husband and I found out our first child would be a boy, we were thrilled. We created a magazine-worthy nursery, read What to Expect When You’re Expecting from cover to cover, and practiced putting the pack-and-play together in less than the two hours it took on our first try. 

I’d known since I was a child myself that I wanted to have kids, and lots of them. I imagined myself as the quintessential soccer mom with four boys lined up in stair-step fashion like the dutiful kids in The Sound of Music. I hoped that my coming boy would grow to be a strapping young man full of wit, sociability, and athleticism like his father, and, most of all, a gentle warrior for Christ.

Babies don’t come with manuals, and I learned soon enough that babies don’t go by the book, no matter how many we read and or how much we research or how much we plan. No, babies don’t go by the book, and neither does God. This also I learned soon enough.

When my little boy turned two, he had no words and we began to worry. By the time he turned three, we knew something was atypical, beyond a hearing issue or a developmental delay. At 3 ½, he was diagnosed with autism. That night I saw my husband cry for the first time.

When I carefully laid out the nursery and prepared my birth plan, the possibility of a disability hadn’t been even a thought in my mind. I hadn’t considered that God might have different plans for me than I had for me, for my son, and for our family. I also hadn’t considered that plans involving pain, difficulty, and uncertainty might be one of the best things to happen to me, because these very things would teach me about love and about God’s love.

But before I could understand lessons of love from pain, I had to work through my unmet expectations with God. Autism challenged everything I’d ever thought of Him. It challenged me to consider how He could allow disability or, if I had done something to cause this, why He didn’t intervene.

As I wrestled with God through tears, my little boy, only capable of repeating movie lines verbatim, walked around constantly chanting his memory verse: “Everything God made was very good” (Genesis 1:31). From the mouths of babes. Through that simple child-sized memory verse, God spoke to me over and over: “This child is not what you expected, but he is a beautiful gift to you from Me. Receive it. Receive him.”

As I released my unmet expectations and opened my hands to receive the reality of what God had given me, I began to learn about God’s love for me. For most of my Christian life, I suspected God’s love for me was based on what I could do for Him, and I performed for Him. I was the actor, He was the observer. When my plates were spinning in succession, I assumed I’d earned love. But when the plates were crashing on the stage, the condemnation assured me that God couldn’t possibly love me.

My son could not “perform” in all the socially acceptable, typically developing ways that other kids around him could. Because he struggled to communicate, he grew frustrated easily, which led to public meltdowns and awkward situations. Many, many people did not know what to do with him or with me. This was extremely difficult for me, because as a performer for love, his disability directly confronted the idea that he reflected on me and my performance as a mother. Would I love him and value him for who God created Him to be or be forever frustrated at his differences and what others perceived as failures? Of course I would love him; he is my beloved son.

This was my first lesson in God’s love, because He turned it around to my own heart. In reality, He showed me, I have a disability as well, and it’s called sin. I am unable to perform in order to earn God’s love and reflect well on His holiness. He could be forever frustrated at my failures, but He is my Father and He loves me apart from what I can or can’t do. Instead of forever frustrated, because of Christ’s sacrifice, He is forever patient and gracious with me. My son reflects back to me the depth of God’s love.

My son is now 11 and he's been more precisely diagnosed as having Asperger's. Disability has released some of its grip but not all. There are difficult moments still and, as now that he's entered the middle school years, we pray fervently for him. I so want him to have a good friend and to find a passion and to know the deep love of God.

But even in this quiet, pained sensitivity that remains, I see a picture of how God loves. As a mother, I feel things for my son perhaps deeper than what my son feels. I want the very best for him. I grieve when he hurts or doesn’t understand the social cues that everyone else understands that are causing him problems. But I carry those hurts for him even when it hurts me too, because I love him.

Just the same, God the Father grieves when we grieve and hurts when we are hurt. And perhaps most importantly, He doesn’t run from our pain. He can handle it all. We can lay it all on Him and He carries it for us, because He cares for us.

I don’t know what the future holds. I learned long ago to lay my perfectly-planned expectations aside and hold all things with open hands. But one thing I know: God was right when He whispered to me that this boy would be a gift. I received him as such, which has opened my eyes to see the complexity of God’s love. And I will continue to receive, enjoying these blessed mysteries that I have been invited in to as a parent of a child with a disability. 

---
Needing encouragement, Mom? Desiring God has recently published a book called Mom Enough: The Fearless Mother's Heart and Hope, to which I have contributed, alongside Gloria Furman, Trillia Newbell, Rachel Jankovic and others. You can get it for free in pdf form or purchase a paperback version. May it bless you in your mothering!
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