December 21, 2016

A Few Things I Want You to Know About

Friends, thank you for a wonderful year here on Grace Covers Me. I'm grateful to have you as a reader and look forward to serving you in some small way through my space here in 2017. I'll be taking a break for the holidays and in preparation for all that I have planned for you in the new year. Of course, you'll be hearing all about preorder goodies for Messy Beautiful Friendship and an opportunity to be on my launch team if you're so inclined, but I can't wait to tell you about what else has been brewing. My prayer is that it will meet you and bless you right where you are in your everyday, ordinary real life and everyday, ordinary real relationships.

I.Can't.Wait. Follow me on your favorite social media platform to be in the know: Instagram, Twitter, and/or Facebook.

In the meantime, I want you to know about a few things. One, I've been doing a Facebook Live chat every once in a while. I've especially geared these toward pastor's wives and women in ministry. My latest was on friendship for the pastor's wife. In case you missed it, I'm bringing it to you. I hope it's helpful to all you ministry ladies, because if you're like me, friendships and relationships have been one of the most challenging things for me.

If you want more, just hop over to my Facebook page. While you're there, I'd be honored if you'd give me a little "like."

Also, I have a fun (and full) speaking schedule for the spring. If you live around any of these places, I'd LOVE for you to join me because then I could meet you in person! How fun would that be? And if you're a women's ministry leader who is looking for a speaker or Bible teacher in Fall of 2017 or beyond, it would be wonderful to connect. Merry Christmas to each of you! See you in 2017!

December 14, 2016

My Favorite Books from 2016

In August, on my way to the airport for a quick trip to Atlanta for a speaking engagement, I stopped at the library. I'd planned it all out--I put books I wanted on hold, I gave myself fifteen extra minutes on the drive, and I made sure I had room in my carry-on for my fresh selections. What I hadn't planned for was the library being closed. As soon as I pulled up to the drive-through pick-up window (a reader's dream!), I realized my mistake, but I still sat for a minute at the window, dumbfounded and uncertain how to proceed. I hadn't brought any back-up books! What's a girl to do? Go a whole day without a book?!?

That story is my way of telling you how much I love reading. Reading is like breathing to me; I must do it. Without books, I'm without one of the basics of life, therefore I plot and plan my list of books so that I'm never without one, except for that sad, sad day I went to Atlanta.
Happily, my year has been full of great books! I devote one of my last posts of each calendar year to sharing my favorites and asking for your recommendations. I've chosen twelve I'd recommend to you, because that's generally how I know if a book has impacted me--I talk about it with my husband and my friends. I've also started a Recommended Reads page on my blog to share my favorites of all time, so pop on over there if you're looking for a good book.

(Please note that these aren't books published in 2016, but simply books I've gotten around to reading in 2016. Also, the links I've included are affiliate links.)

When Breath Becomes Air
by Paul Kalanithi

Written by a neurosurgeon who has been diagnosed with cancer, the book first takes the perspective of a doctor helping his patients face death and then takes the perspective of a patient facing death under the care of doctors. The writing is absolutely haunting, as is the story. I sobbed bittersweet tears in the end.

None Like Him
by Jen Wilkin

I'm a huge fan of Jen Wilkin, especially her Bible studies. In her writing and teaching, she reminds me of Tim Keller, able to communicate big ideas with simple words and analogies. The premise of None Like Him fit right in with what God has been personally teaching me over the last few years--that there are some of His attributes that I cannot imitate and am not expected to imitate. Wilkin summarized and solidified these truths in an easy-to-read and easy-to-remember way.

The Run of His Life: The People vs. OJ Simpson
by Jeffrey Toobin

I'm fascinated by true crime stories, especially true crime that is placed in the context of history and race. My husband and I first watched the miniseries based on this book and then the ESPN documentary, O.J.: Made in America, and apparently I couldn't get enough so I then read The Run of His Life. I graduated from high school the year Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman were murdered, so I remember bits and pieces of the news and, certainly, where I was when the verdict was read, but this book helped me understand the background, the context, and the details of the case to a greater degree.

The Ology: Ancient Truths, Ever New
by Marty Machowski

This past summer, my kids and I read The Ology each day after breakfast as a sort of devotional. Machowski lays out theology on a level kids can understand, using word pictures and analogies to help explain important truths such as the Holy Spirit and sin. We had lots of good discussion after our readings, and my boys often asked questions that surprised and delighted me.

The Residence: Inside the Private World of the White House
by Kate Anderson Brower

The Residence is an inside peek at the staff that runs the White House, primarily focusing on the Kennedy through Obama years. Former and current staff, many of whom spend their entire lives serving the First Families, share their perspectives on former presidents, as well as interesting tidbits on how they make the house run. For instance, they discuss the move-out and move-in process on Inauguration Day and it's fascinating.

Being There: How to Love Those Who Are Hurting
by Dave Furman

This past summer, when my husband had an accident, my friends and our church family rushed to help, and help they did. I learned so much about what is helpful (and what is not) in times of crisis or suffering. And then Dave Furman released his book, Being There, and I found it even more helpful. He gives such great perspective and advice on how we can come alongside others when they're hurting by sharing his own experience with chronic and debilitating pain. I highly recommend this for those who minister to others or who have a friend who is suffering.

The Nightingale 
by Kristin Hannah

I'm not a huge fiction reader. I usually only read fiction that comes highly recommended, which is how I ended up reading The Nightingale. Set in occupied France in World War II, the book follows two sisters and they're attempts to survive under Nazi rule. I couldn't put it down.

Parting the Waters: America in the King Years 1954-1963
by Taylor Branch

I already told you about my specific interest in any book that combines a famous person, history, and race. If that is also something you are interested in, you will eat this book up. Parting the Waters is the first in a trilogy of Pulitzer Prize winning books about the origin of the Civil Rights Movement that culminated in the 1960's. Branch focuses primarily on Martin Luther King Jr., the Kennedys, and Lyndon Johnson, but it goes into detail about how the movement began and gained steam.

Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging
by Sebastian Junger

From the first page, Junger had me thinking about the book's implications for the church. It's not a Christian book but rather a sociological one, but there are so many scriptural parallels that it's uncanny. His premise is that our Western individualistic culture is not good for our wellbeing; we thrive when we live in community, when we share and meet the needs of others, and when we as a community rally around one another in crisis. Junger still has me thinking.

by Lecrae

I'm a Lecrae fan, so I loved reading his story. What has stuck with me, however, is his call for Christians to engage the world with creativity. We're so quick to label music or books (or anything) Christian or secular, but how do we work and create when those worlds collide? Lecrae gives us something to think about.

Galatians for You
by Tim Keller

My favorite book of the Bible is Galatians. It has changed my life in a million different ways. I've read it, studied it, and taught it countless times, but reading Galatians for You reoriented me all over again to the truth and beauty of the gospel. The book is written like a easy-to-read commentary, so at times I read it as I would a book and other times I read it alongside Galatians. Highly recommended.

Unbroken (The Young Adult Adaption): An Olympian's Journey from Airman to Castaway to Captive
by Laura Hillenbrand

Unbroken is one of my favorite books I've ever read. This year, I began reading the young adult version aloud to my boys and they soon after began begging me for it. I'm glad I read it aloud because there were some words and a few descriptions that I skipped over, but overall it's been one of my kids' favorite read-alouds. Because of the story, we had conversations about forgiveness, courage, perseverance, God, and sin. I think this book is especially good for pre-teen and teenage boys. (Also, my husband is currently reading Thoughts for Young Men  by J.C. Ryle with our boys and raving about it.)

What are your favorites of 2016? What should I read next? I'd love your suggestions.

P.S. Have you read my books yet? I'd love a chance to be on your 2017 "to-read" list, especially my soon-to-released book, Messy Beautiful Friendship: Finding and Nurturing Deep and Lasting Relationships. Look for more information on pre-order and launch team opportunities in the new year. (eek! so excited!)

P.P.S. Want more suggestions? Check out my favorites from 2015, 2014, 2013, and 2012, or peruse my Recommendations page.

December 7, 2016

One Way to Discover and Deepen Friendships

There can be no doubt: God has given us friends. He has given us the Church. He has given us relationships for fun and for sanctification and to help us live wise lives. The gifts are all around us, if we have eyes to see and savor them.

If you're like me, more often than not you're considering the holes in your life. Perhaps you're new to your town and haven't made any friends to speak of. Perhaps you're feeling frustrated with your current church situation. Perhaps you've just been on Instagram and are feeling left out of the mom circle around you. There don't appear to be friendship-gifts all around you, just frustrations and longings.
But I want you to imagine your current life without friends--anyone on the spectrum from acquaintances to lifelong friends. Imagine that you didn't ever meet that girl in the dorm during college or the high school classmate who told you about Jesus. Imagine never knowing your co-worker or the girl in your small group at church. Imagine never having had that family in your home for dinner or not being invited to that birthday party. Imagine living the Christian life without the church and its truth-teaching; worship-singing; and people praying, serving, and giving. In other words, imagine moving through life solitarily. When life-altering decisions have to be made, you're on your own. When you need support, you have no one to whom you can turn. When you need a good laugh, you have no one to laugh with. A solitary life would be a life of no shared burdens and no shared companionship. It would be heavier and less delightful, and how would you see anything but your own small perspective?

What a wonder that God has given us other people, and that some of those people become dear friends! What a gift that we get to live life alongside others! Friendship is truly one of the sweetest gifts in life.

My biggest struggles in friendship, whether loneliness or unmet expectations or hurts, have generally filtered through a belief that I'm entitled to have it in the exact form I want it. The biggest boon to my friendships, however, has been an attitude of receptive thanksgiving for what is right in front of me.

Have you ever had the experience of excitedly planning a meeting with someone you want to get to know and then, when you finally got together, you left feeling disappointed because she didn't ask you any questions or things just seemed a bit off? Those are moments when we grow easily discouraged and want to give up on that person or on initiating with others.

But those are the exact moments that call for thanksgiving, because they are opportunities to look for the gift in that person. Were they everything you hoped they'd be? Probably not. For that matter, were you everything they hoped you'd be? Probably not. But what about the nugget of hard-won wisdom she shared with you? What about the fact that she gracious paid for your tea? What does it mean that she gave up her lunch break or switched around her work schedule or got a babysitter so she could get together with you? What about the way she asked you those questions or spoke one simple word of encouragement? Did you have something in common? Did she allow you into her life at all? Certainly there is something in each relationship we have for which we can be thankful.

In Life Together, Dietrich Bonhoeffer sets us straight:
Because God has already laid the only foundation of our fellowship, because God has bound us together in one body with other Christians in Jesus Christ, long before we entered into common life with them, we enter into that common life not as demanders but as thankful recipients . . . We do not complain of what God does not give us; we rather thank God for what He does give us daily . . . If we do not give thanks daily for the Christian fellowship in which we have been placed, even where there is no great experience, no discoverable riches, but much weakness, small faith, and difficulty; if on the contrary, we only keep complaining to God that everything is so paltry and petty, so far from what we expected, then we hinder God from letting our fellowship grow according to the measure and riches which are there for us all in Jesus Christ.
In other words, we should view friendship as a gift and humbly acknowledge that the unwrapping will take time. It will take starts and stops. It will take space and grace. Let us not, in our wish-dream fantasies or our entitlement or our expectations of perfection, crush what God intended as a delicate gift to slow-open.
Hey, friends, I want to tell you about a book releasing soon that inspired this post! It's called Enjoy: Finding the Freedom to Delight Daily in God's Good Gifts by Trillia Newbell. Not only do I love the alliteration of that title (word nerd, here), but I love the topic Trillia's tackled (see what I did there?). With my own book releasing in the spring on the subject of friendship, I was happy to discover Trillia placed the enjoyment of relationships as good gifts from God at the top of her "Enjoy" list.
You can preorder Trillia's book and get it in time for Christmas, and if you do so, you get a free Advent devo to go with it. Score! Here are a few of Trillia's words to wet your whistle (stopping with the alliteration now) about enjoying relationships:
  • In order to fully enjoy relationships, we must be focused on others. The moment we begin to focus on what we're getting out of them or what we want others to do, our joy will die.
  • Perhaps another way to enjoy others is to relax. Relax? Yes, relax. Stop analyzing every friend and every move. To truly enjoy others is to let go and embrace them. No judging. No overanalyzing. Just enjoy.
I love that, don't you? Go on and get your copy now.

December 1, 2016

Making Friends When You're Shy Or Insecure

When I was a child I was painfully shy. When adults spoke to me, I'd hide behind my mother, answering their questions from behind her skirt, afraid to look them in the eye. I rarely spoke to other children at school unless they first spoke to me or invited me to join in whatever game they were playing. Perfectly content with one or two close friends, I remained quiet in most social situations. I was never the initiator, the includer, the leader, and most definitely never the life of any party.

And then, prior to my 6th grade year, my family and I moved to a new city. I was petrified and cried myself through that first year of middle school. My poor parents; they probably had no idea what to do with me or how to help me adjust. I signed up for softball and warmed up with my teammates in silence, hoping they'd include me in their conversations. I joined the youth group at church and sat in silence, waiting for girls to approach me. And then I'd go home, uncertain and overwhelmed, and cry my eyes out to my mom once again.
One day, as we were warming up for a game, a girl on my softball team named Kimberly said something to me that immediately etched itself into my memory. Kimberly was pretty and bubbly and friendly, one of the most popular girls at school, and just the thought that she was speaking to me made me instantly nervous. Standing beside me during warm ups, she stopped, looked right at me and said, "You know, I used to think you were a snob, because you never said anything to anyone." I just stared at her, gaping at her directness and wondering if "used to" had ever really changed. It felt like she was trying to send me a message, in a helpful sort of way, but the words stung bad. How could she think I was a snob? Didn't she realize that, being new, I was extremely unsure of myself and that, in fact, it was her duty as an insider to come toward me, the outsider, with friendship?

After the sting subsided, however, I realized Kimberly had given me a gift--an outsider's perspective on myself. My quietness wasn't the invitation and opportunity for others to come toward me that I'd hoped it was. Instead, my quietness had built a wall between myself and others that sent a loud and clear message: don't come near.

The gift Kimberly gave me changed my life, because that day I realized that if I wanted to have friends in my new city, I'd actually have to talk to people. (I know, revolutionary.) I'd have to carry myself in a way that invited rather than repelled. Above all, I'd have to do things that felt unnatural and uncomfortable.

I am who I am. To this day, I am still shy, reserved, and don't mind a bit being by myself. However, I still very much want to have friends, and sometimes this combination of personality and dreams can be tricky. I often find myself reverting back to that 6th grade girl's expectation that others should do the work of coming toward me and helping me and befriending me.

It just doesn't work like that, not for me and not for you either. Waiting for others and hiding away (literally and figuratively) quickly builds a wall between others and ourselves and very few, if any, women will try to scale our walls in search of friendship.

Friendship is hard enough. I don't want to put obstacles in my own way. As an adult, I've obviously learned to look people in the eye and speak, but I think the greatest lesson birthed out of Kimberly's words is that I should do things that feel uncomfortable to me. For example, it's uncomfortable and nerve-wracking for me to attend women's ministry events at church--and I'm in charge of them! I would much prefer to stay home in my pajamas. But after the fact--after a retreat or a gathering of some sort--I'm always glad I went. Always, always, always.

It's not only worth the risk of doing uncomfortable things, but now I know something I didn't know when I was with Kimberly on the softball field: I know that I'm enveloped in the sure love of Christ.   I am secure, so secure in his delight and approval, that He's become a anchor for my soul. He has me so securely in His hands that I can go toward others with friendship and not worry if I get the response I hope for. I am hidden in Christ, so I don't have to be afraid to be who He's made me, but I also don't have to self-protect. I can go toward others with confidence, extending an invitation rather than building a wall.

November 17, 2016

Friendship for the Pastor's Wife

A few years ago I took questions from an audience of women. One woman raised her hand and wanted to talk about her pastor's wife. She said, "I really want to be a friend to her." I smiled, said  wonderful, and began listing off ways she could specifically care for her. Things like prayer and letting her know she's being prayed for, saying thank you for the many unseen things she does, and perhaps helping her with her small children on Sunday mornings. The woman interrupted me to rephrase her question. She wanted to know how to become friends with the pastor's wife and expressed frustration that her pastor's wife seemed hard to know.
Her question sat with me for a long, long time. In the moment, for a reason I didn't yet understand, I bristled. In the weeks following, however, I realized why. The questioner presumed friendship with her pastor's wife was inevitable, and she seemed personally offended that her pastor's wife hadn't come toward her to welcome her into her confidence.

I wish I'd thought of all this during the Q&A. I would have told her I stood with my first answer, even after she rephrased it. The way to get to know your pastor's wife is the way you get to know every other woman. Show interest in her, ask questions, engage her when you're around her, pray for her, or serve her in some way. For a pastor's wife who often gladly initiates, gladly carries conversations, gladly helps others, gladly rallies others to help, gladly hosts, and gladly listens to the cares and concerns of others, a well-placed question or a simple thank you is truly a delightful gift. A woman who cares for her, even in the simplest way, absolutely stands out as a friend and possibly a good friend.

And if I could do it over again, I would have gently explained to the questioner that her pastor's wife is just like every other woman in the church when it comes to friendship: she gets a choice who she lets in.

I couldn't think of an eloquent answer, because questions about friendship and relationships within the church often get me very flustered. This topic feels vulnerable and sensitive, because I've gotten it wrong far too many times, and I've nursed silent wounds that might affect my response with bitterness. Also, it seems that everyone has an opinion about how the pastor's wife relates to others, and I wonder if people who ask me about this will listen, really listen to my flustered, fumbling answers.

Meanwhile, the pastor's wife my questioner asked about is probably struggling to navigate all her relationships within the church. Are they friendships? Or simply warm church relationships? What can she share and with whom? Can people see her as a real person? Who can she bring into her confidence and will there ever be a person like that for her in her church?

A pastor's wife, as one recently told me, often feels as if she's relationally a mile wide and an inch deep. She may even believe the oft-repeated charge that she is not to have personal friends within the congregation, or she may feel she is stretched so thin from church-related demands that friendship isn't logistically possible for her.

I've felt all of these things and believed all of these things, even tried to live as if I were responsible to maintain friendships with everyone I possibly could within our church. For many years, I resigned myself to the idea that I didn't have a choice in who my friends were, and I walked myself down a path of loneliness, self-pity, and isolation.

Pastor's wife, I have good news for you. You do have a choice in the matter, and friendship is a very real possibility for you. Friendship will require your vulnerability, however, and this is the first obstacle you'll have to hurtle yourself through with purpose and intentionality, because vulnerability is something we tend to tightly lock away. We point to the caveat--"but make sure you are vulnerable only with safe people"--as permission to remain holed up and self-protective. This doesn't win friends, dear reader. Here's what does:

Root out bitterness and self-pity. First of all, other women sniff out bitterness and self-pity and they don't know what to do with it, especially if it's emanating from the pastor's wife. More importantly, however, bitterness is sin against God. God sees how you've been legitimately hurt. He saw what that person did to you, and He'll deal with that person's sin, but don't become the sinner yourself in your inability to entrust yourself to the Lord's care and comfort. The Lord is your defense (Psalm 5:11-12) and gives such secure love that you can put yourself back out there and keep trying relationally.

Don't believe your own press. You are introduced everywhere you go as The Pastor's Wife. You may feel unspoken expectations regarding the role. You may find yourself trying incredibly hard to be what you think everyone wants you to be. But you are ultimately not a role; you are a person. The more you think of yourself as a role, the more you will find yourself performing and overanalyzing relationships, and the less you will be able to engage other women as the real person you are.

Don't take the attitude of a martyr who can't ask for help or receive help from others. If you want deep friendships, you absolutely must reveal your physical, emotional, and spiritual needs to others. Think about how you would feel if you tried cultivating a relationship with another woman who never expressed an uncertainty, a discouragement, or a physical need. You wouldn't want to be friends with her! Start with small things, but start somewhere. (And know that friendship struggles aren't unique to pastor's wives. Don't play the martyr by using your role as an excuse to not try. Friendship rarely falls into the lap of any woman. Those who have friends have intentionally cultivated them.)

Take steps that will move you from mile wide, inch deep to life-giving friendship. We all feel the tyranny of the urgent. Ministry can, at times, feel very reactive. We don't have time to stop and think about who we'd like to have coffee with or get to know better, because we're just reacting to the latest need. So what do we do? In order to move away from mile wide, inch deep relationships, we have to plan ahead. Who do you want to get to know better? Who are your growing friendships with? Who are people that fill you to the brim with life and fun and joy? Get times with those folks on the calendar before the church related activities fill it up. Make time in your schedule for friendship.

Know how to share. Sometimes we feel as if we can't talk about one of the most important things in our lives--the church--with even our closest friends. But I think we can. Of course, there are details upon details that should never pass from our lips, but we can share from our own perspective without crossing any lines. In other words, if there is a difficult situation going on, I can say to my very closest friends, "Kyle has been dealing with a difficult situation and it's spilling over onto me. We feel discouraged. Can you pray for us?" Good friends will respect the boundaries but also care and pray and come alongside.

Live in a need-to-know relationship with your husband concerning the church. You don't need to know everything. In fact, you need to know very little about what's going on behind the scenes. My husband discusses the details of messy situations with the other elders at our church and other pastors he knows. This frees me up to just have normal relationships with people within our church.

Relate with honor. Here's a template that's helped me enormously, so much so that it's become something I literally say out loud to myself when the "shoulds" come barreling at me: I'm not responsible for everyone. I am to honor all, be friends with a few, and serve how God leads me. This means that when we go to church gatherings, we have an opportunity simply because we're the pastor's wife. We have the opportunity to honor people with our words, our demeanor, our affection, our listening, and our helping, and we can shower folks with honor. Friendship, in which we share our innermost thoughts and feelings, is for a few who've proven true blue and wise and who can hold a confidence. Friendly with all, friends with a few.

Friends, I could probably go on forever about this topic, because friendship for the pastor's wife is complex and often complicated. It's difficult to cover it all in a blog post. I'd love to talk with you more about friendship and ministry and answer any questions you have. Send them to me by email and then let's jump onto Facebook Live for a chat on Monday, November 28 at 8 pm EST. To participate, simply be on my Facebook page at that time and you'll see me come on live. For reminders, "like" my page on Facebook or follow me on Instagram