Monday, February 27, 2017

The February Book Review

Books, books, and more books!
I was so occupied with the Whole30 on my blog in January that I forgot to do a wrap up post for the books I read in January.
Most of those books are included in the #BoutOfBooks post that you can find here. The first two books on this list are actually from the end of January!

The lineup for the end of January/all of February:

  • Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell (End of January) 328 pages
  • Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari (End of January) 288 pages
  • All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr (February) 530 pages
  • You Will Know Me by Megan Abbott (February) 345 pages
  • The Gifts of Imperfection: Letting Go of Who You Used to Be and Embracing Who You Are by Brene Brown (February) 138 pages

Total Page Count: 1,629
Page Count for 2017 (so far): 3,007

And the winner is….nonfiction this time!

My favorite book out of those above was Brene Brown’s The Gifts of Imperfection: Letting Go of Who You Used to Be and Embracing Who You Are.
I truly believe that everyone should read this book. I read it with a group of friends as part of a book club, and I can honestly say that each one of us, in all of our personality and background differences, stopped and reflected on why we feel the way we do about ourselves and our relationships with others.
Being perfect and pleasing everyone is impossible. We all know that.
That’s why “nobody’s perfect” is a common saying, and we strive to live our lives as inoffensively as possible. This book outlines feelings and emotions such as shame, regret, and guilt and explains why we feel them so that we can take those emotions captive and control the way we view life and, ultimately, ourselves.

One of the things I love about Brene Brown is that the whole book is actually quite biblical, even though she isn’t labeled as a Christian author.
In our group, we talked about how if you take most of her points one step further, they are based on the principles that are outlined for us in the Bible.
Example: We don’t need to allow guilt and shame to control our view of ourselves...because God has already taken that guilt and shame, and we are free in Christ.
It was a really interesting read that caused me to take a deep look inside myself and realize that I don’t have to be perfect or please everyone.

Especially as a life should be offensive to some people. That isn’t saying that I am to be rude or that I rub my Christianity in others’ faces and shove it disrespectfully down their throats. I am saying that my life should reflect Christ, and that others should be able to see Christ through my life.
And...well...Jesus was kind of offensive sometimes! He lived in complete opposition to His own culture, and He challenged others to do the same. He challenges US to do the same! 

I can’t compromise who I am...and Whose I am...just to make someone else happy.

All of that to is the book cover. You should go get it and read it now. It is wonderful, challenging, and totally changed my perspective on how I view myself.

Currently Reading:
Jesus Is by Judah Smith
The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde
Nature by Ralph Waldo Emerson
I am Malala by Malala Yousafzai

Next Up:
Jesus Feminist by Sarah Bessey
The Wangs vs. The World by Jade Chang

PS: I’ll be writing a blog sometime this year about the intersection of Feminism and Christianity. If anyone has any resources to throw my way, please let me know!

Until next week!

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Why I Used to Hate the #EndItMovement

Today USED to be my least favorite day of the year. The day of the year that social media is covered in red ❌s.

As a modern day abolitionist, I've been volunteering in rescue homes for victims of human trafficking for the last eight years.
The girls and women that this crime affects are real people and faces to me.

It used to infuriate me that each year people would draw a red ❌ on their hands and call themselves good for the rest of the year.

So here's a challenge to you supporting the end it movement today, and a challenge to myself as well:

Don't let today lose its momentum.

-Find a local organization that fights human trafficking daily and join hands with them. If you're in Greenville, I have three different organizations that I can direct you to.

-Pray that God moves in your community.

-Don't support trafficking by watching porn.
Yes, those girls and women in those pictures and videos are victims, and if you disagree or want to argue with me, feel free. I would be happy to help you understand how serious the porn issue really is.
Several of my friends from the rescue facilities were grown women who found out that porn videos had been made of them, and they don't even remember it. Their pimps/boyfriends drugged them so severely that they can't even remember the video being made.
Sometimes the women in the videos are forced to do terrible things because their safety is threatened. There is so much going on that you can't see. If you're struggling with this concept, please ask questions. Ask your pastor, visit, send me a message or a comment. This is a serious issue, and it's important to take it seriously.

Today doesn't make me angry anymore, because I see that the red ❌ is a symbol of solidarity in a movement that needs to keep going all year. Now I thank God for it and praise Him for bringing awareness to a sensitive issue.

Challenge yourself. Keep the momentum moving.

❌ #enditmovement

Monday, February 20, 2017

To Christians Who Feel Far From God

Dear Hurting Friend,

I have been where you have been.

You’ve known Jesus for a while now, maybe even for your whole life. Maybe you’ve even been mostly obedient...attending church on Sundays, even serving in the kids area or the youth group.

Your coworkers and schoolmates may even know that you’re a Christian. You may have even invited them to come with you to a church event. You listen to Christian radio, you don’t participate in the “crazy sins,” and you know all of the right answers.

In fact, you even know that God actually is with you, and that He hasn’t left you. You may even be in a leadership role at your church or ministry, helping other people meet Jesus.

But inside you feel numb. God hasn’t spoken clearly to your heart in months. Or like me, maybe even years.

You’re afraid to reach out to a fellow leader or church pastor because you feel like they’ll think you’re not good enough, or not a Christian.

I mean, it’s not that you don’t believe in God. It’s that it’s been a long, long time since you feel like He’s made Himself clear. You may have been calling out to Him for months, and it seems like there’s no answer.

Consider my example:

In middle and high school, I learned to be outspoken about my faith, and I was (nearly) fearless when it came to talking about Jesus. I look back at that young girl now, and I envy her boldness in sharing the gospel. I envy how little she cared about what others thought.

To be totally honest, until recently, the last time I heard God clearly speak to me was my freshman year in college. Those who know me, or have followed this blog, may gasp and think: but she was in ministry!

Yep, that is true. After my bold high school years, I went to a Christian university (which I loved); I spent two of my college summers doing missions with human trafficking victims (one overseas, one in the US); I’ve been volunteering with anti-trafficking ministries since 2009; I was in leadership roles in college ministries and Good News Clubs, and for goodness’ sake, I graduated college and started working at a church!

And yet, for nearly five years, I cried out to God to speak, to make Himself known, and it felt like all I could hear in response was radio silence.
I knew from the church’s teachings and from my own desperate faith that Jesus was there, that He was listening to me and hearing me. But for some reason, I didn’t feel like I could hear His voice. 
I still routinely read my Bible and went to church. I did all of the things I was supposed to do, but gradually I started to realize that I just felt numb.

My wandering friend,

I know you read this and deeply identify. You feel my hurt and confusion. And we both know, it doesn’t make much of a difference if I just tell you, “Just wait and keep seeking God. He is here. This dry spell will be over soon.”

First of all, I don’t know if the dry spell will be over soon. I can’t promise you that. And I know that if you’re like I was only a month ago, you have already told yourself to just wait and keep seeking. You’ve already told yourself that God is still here.

I want you to ponder a few questions that helped me. Be honest with yourself and think (and pray) about them.

1. What is at the core of your prayers?

Are you praying for yourself? Are you thanking God for the blessings that He has given you, even the small things?
Remember God’s faithfulness in your life, your friends, your family, your job, the opportunity to go to school...and thank Him for it.
It is 100% okay to ask God for things. It's healthy to tell Him how you’re feeling and ask for what you want or need. But are your prayers purely selfish? Are you just trying to use God to feel better or get what you want?
In my case, I realized that my numbness had caused me to start praying less and less. Eventually, I would only pray briefly before routinely reading my Bible or teaching a lesson at church. I didn’t thank God for much, other than food before meals, and mostly prayed for myself. I rarely even prayed for others. I rarely asked forgiveness for my “small” sins (all sins are equal in the sight of God, by the way...Romans 3:23).
It’s important to realize, that praying even when we don’t know what to say is important (Romans 8:26-27). Praying for other people is also an important step in getting the focus off of yourself and onto someone else...which glorifies God and puts the focus on Him (Ephesians 6:18, Matthew 5:44).

2. When you pray for yourself, what do you ask for?

Do you ask for a promotion, for a new job, for a good grade, or for a boyfriend? Do you ask for specific things?
Like I said above, it is definitely okay to ask God for these things. 
But instead of giving God a list of demands and being upset when they aren’t met the way you want them to be...pray for God to show you what HE wants for you.
He knows what you need even better than you do, and you’ll look back at this time later and see exactly why God did the things He did (Psalm 37:4).

3. Who do you reach out to first when you have a problem...a good friend, or God?
Pretty to God about your hurts and frustrations before picking up the phone and calling a friend.
Don't be afraid to reach out to a fellow leader or church pastor. Chances are...they've experienced these times of spiritual drought too. 

4. If you’re feeling numb or burnt out while reading the Bible, have you talked to God about it?

This was a big one for me. I still tried to have a quiet time, but after feeling numb for a while, I really had no desire to read the Bible. I made the excuse of having no time (which is a total lie because I read seven other books just for fun in January, and watched A LOT of Netflix).
About a month ago I started asking God to give me a passion for His Word, and to reveal Himself in the Bible. And He did. I wanted to read the Bible at work and on my lunch breaks, and could not get enough (Psalm 37:4, Matthew 7:7).

I started praying that God would help wake me up earlier in the mornings so I could spend time with Him before work (in case you didn’t know...I am NOT a morning person. I’m the girl who has to leave the house at 8am and consistently gets up at 7:50).

The very next morning, I was awakened by my chirping smoke detector at 7am. I was angry, smashed it with a broom, went back to sleep (WHY), got up at 7:50, and reported it to maintenance at my apartment complex. They reported later that evening that nothing was wrong with it.

The next morning, it woke me up at 6:30. I smashed it and went back to sleep. There was nothing wrong with it after I reported it to maintenance, and they replaced the entire system just to be sure.

AGAIN, the third morning, it woke me up at 5:30. I don’t know how I didn’t see that this wasn’t God trying to get me up...I went back to sleep and realized on my way to work that hey...there’s nothing wrong with the system. This is probably God answering my prayer in a really annoying way, because he has a sense of humor.

So the fourth day that it went off, I got up (admittedly still a little late), I spent some time with God. And the smoke detector hasn’t chirped since!

It’s a funny story, but the point is...if you want more of a passion for the Bible, if you want to desire God’s Word, ask God, and be looking for His answer.

5. Are you looking to see if God is moving?

If you feel like God’s not hearing you...if you’re asking for God to show Himself, to give you a passion for His Word, if you’re thanking Him even when He feels far off...if you’re doing all of the things above, consider this:
If you go back and read my story again, you’ll see how many times I said “I feel” or “it seemed.” It took a couple of “God moments” to get my attention (as seen by my smoke detector story above).
If you feel like you can’t see it because you’re not really looking? 
When was the last time you watched a sunset and thought about who created it?

Ask God to show you Himself every day, and pay attention to the little things He does. The big things will  happen in His perfect timing, which is so much better than ours.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Like a Teacup

In this season of change and challenge, God has blessed me with seven fifth grade girls whose curiosity and silliness remind me what it’s like to be young and free and a child of the King.

I’ll be the first to admit that sometimes on a Sunday evening, after an exhausting day of nursery duty, church service, and tutoring, I’m not always in a great mood and ready to go on Sunday evenings...especially when the girls are sugared up and excited from their great weekends! But over the last few months, God has allowed each of them to worm their ways into my heart and change my views on my own life, and even my view of God!

Last night, God reminded me of a little analogy that I shared with the girls. We are going through the book of 1 Peter, and talking about how trials in life “refine” us.
The concept of being refined is not always an easy thing to describe to a fifth grader. In case you need a refresher, this is the verse that the study was referencing:

“These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold--though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world.” -1 Peter 1:7

These girls had many questions about what it means to be “tested and purified by fire.” At first, I tried to explain how gold becomes more pure and valuable when it is put through fire, which is true, but not easy to grasp as a child.

God brought to mind a little analogy about a teacup who went through kiln. Our conversation went a little like this:

Me: “When God refines us through the hard times in our lives, it’s a little bit like how a teacup is made. Have you guys seen someone make a teacup or a vase in a pottery class before?”
Commence all seven of them at once telling stories about how they have or haven’t seen pottery made before, or how their aunt/mom/cousin/sister’s friend’s mom’s sister did one once.
Me: “That’s awesome! So when you saw the piece of clay made into a teacup, did they put tea in it and drink?”
All: “No! It was still wet, they couldn’t use it!”
Me: “Do you know what they had to do before they could use it?”
Girl 1: “Well they have to put it in this thing with fire so it gets hard and sturdy.”
Girl 2: “They can’t use it until it goes through the fire!”
Radio silence.
All: “Ohhh! I get it!”
Me: “That’s right! So when we go through hard times, it is so God can use us to glorify Him.”

Not only was it so cool to see them get this concept, but God made it jump out to me again as well. I’ve heard this analogy a million times, but in this season of changes and challenges, it hit me like a ton of bricks. All of these changes, all of this season, is ultimately for good. God isn’t done with me yet!

The curiosity and silliness that I see in my little fifth graders reminds me that as a child of God, I still have a lot of growing to do. I have my own areas of curiosity that I’m exploring with God, and He treasures those, of all ages, that seek Him. Every single trial is for His glory. To expand His kingdom and glorify His name.

What a blessing it is to be a part of God’s Kingdom. He is moving!

Monday, February 6, 2017

On Exercising Your Inside

Lately, I’ve been in a little bit of a slump. Honestly, most of the people that I know feel the same way. I’m not in college anymore, I’m not married’s this middle ground that is constantly filled with doing. I’m off work...okay...what do I do? Clean? Read? Catch up with friends? Grocery shop? Update my work wardrobe? Work out? Eat better?

Well, honestly, I have been running around like a chicken with my head cut off, battling sickness all week, trying to maintain a clean home, staying up on my book count, eating right and working out to get the body I think I need...but I was forgetting this one liiiiiiiiiittle thing that makes all the difference.

Yes, you know what I’m going to say.


At the beginning of 2017, I made a commitment to read the Bible all the way through for the first time this year. Cover to cover. And while I’m not completely on schedule, I’m doing much better than I have done in years past. Maybe because adult life actually forces me into a routine, maybe because every once in awhile I feel like I have to, I’m not sure.

But this week, something changed in me. I was reading my Bible during a break at work and thinking about how much easier life would be if I didn’t love sleep so much and could do this in the morning, and I was simultaneously reading the Bible, planning my weekly blog post, thinking about how I have to clean those dang makeup brushes, and wondering how long it’s been since I’ve vacuumed. The next thing I knew, I was three chapters into my Bible reading and I had no idea what I just read. I flipped a few pages back and started reading again, while simultaneously calculating how good I’ll actually need to feel after a sinus infection for it to be okay for me to work out again.

That’s when I caught myself.

If you have been reading anything I’ve been posting lately, you’ve been able to see that January was pretty busy for me, with completing the Whole30 food challenge and paying careful attention to what I eat, and what is healthiest for me. I think it is important to take care of the body that God has given me. And I stand by that.

What I realized was, planning out food for the Whole30 and trying to coordinate cleaning my apartment and working out and seeing friends, while completely breezing over my spiritual exercises (like my time with Jesus) is killing me…maybe not physically, but definitely spiritually and emotionally. There were times when I was a wreck, claiming I just couldn’t handle the stress of my life.

With each task I added to my list, at work or at home, I added a little more stress to my life. And instead of balancing tasks in a healthy manner, I was piling everything on at once.
Instead of pulling things off the top of the pile, and evenly distributing it throughout my week, I was putting off my time with God. Without seeking His wisdom in my life, nothing else even mattered.
Yes, cleaning my apartment is important, and it needs to happen. Yes, working out and eating right are both important and necessary for my physical health and well being.
But without “working out” my spiritual life, praying, being in tune with God, and reading the Bible, how would I even begin to go about the rest of my life?

All of that is to say this: in the craziness of your week, with all you have on your list…
Don’t forget Jesus.