Here Comes 2018

Here Comes 2018

Confetti, resolutions, and staying up late are all part of welcoming the New Year.  These days, reflection doesn’t just come from laughing through memories with friends and family as we wait for the ball to drop (or rise if you are an Okie).  These days, reflection isn’t quite reflection until we do it through some form of social media.  The past few years the most popular reflection I’ve seen is “the best nine,” which is primarily on Instagram.  I don’t remember actually making a collage of my top nine moments the past few years, but I do remember each of those posts making me think a little more about my “best nine.”

As 2017 started, I remember thinking “it could be difficult to choose nine moments from 2016.”  I had too many to choose from! Frankly, 2018 is a different story.  The difficulty isn’t having too many to choose, it’s not knowing if a collage of nine photos of my dog would make people stop following me.  (And, honestly, how do you choose between the one of him in the mud, the one in his Halloween costume, or the one in his Christmas sweater?)

Joking aside, 2017 has not been the best year for me.  It’s been one of those “enough is enough” years.  I don’t mean that I haven’t had good moments, I have had plenty, but looking back it’s not been a year of celebrating.  It’s been a year that often felt like spinning my wheels, of boundaries and pruning, not-so-pleasant growth, hurt, and disappointment.

Even though 2017 was not a year of celebrating, it is still a year worth celebrating.  I am still thankful for moments here and there (and I could come up with more than “the best nine,” I’d just have to be creative to come up with representative photos).  I am still grateful for the work God did in 2017.  Most of all, I am still hopeful for years to come.  Currently, for 2018.

For those of you who also haven’t had “the best nine” kind of year and are ready to shove 2017 out the door, here’s my hope for 2018.  I have goals and resolutions too and those relate to my hope in some ways, but they aren’t the same.  This is my hope.

Very simply, Jesus.  More specifically, beauty.

No, not the kind of beauty that comes in a bottle or a gym membership.  Beauty that comes from hardship and mourning.

Isaiah 61:3 (HCSB) says (emphasis mine),

to provide for those who mourn in Zion;
to give them a crown of beauty instead of ashes,
festive oil instead of mourning,
and splendid clothes instead of despair.
And they will be called righteous trees,
planted by the Lord
to glorify Him.

Twenty seventeen hasn’t been a year of mourning, ashes, or despair for me like it has been for some, but it’s been enough that I’m ready for a crown of beauty, festive oil, and splendid clothes.  I’m ready for the Lord’s promises that good does somehow come from all the hard things that life brings our way.  I don’t expect to magically have every problem resolved in 2018, no new hardships, or “the best 100” next year, but I do have hope that 2018 will be closer to the beauty because I expect to be closer to Jesus–whether it’s through that pruning-not-so-fun-growth or some welcome joy and relief.

So here comes 2018.  Welcome, beauty.

Let’s Play!

It’s been a crazy season.  Who am I kidding, every season is a little crazy, but there’s something about May that breeds its own kind of crazy (…like December).  So here I am, over two months later, writing another post.  For those still hanging with me, thanks!

During this crazy season, my family adopted a dog.  This dog is a good dog.  I love all dogs.  I’ve had 3 dogs before this one and I would say all were good dogs, but not like this one.  You see, this one is also well-behaved.  He doesn’t destroy things.  He doesn’t beg.  He doesn’t jump.  He plays well with other dogs.  He doesn’t bark or lick incessantly.  While this dog still hasn’t stolen my heart quite like my other dogs did (give it time, he will), it’s obvious that he is a very good dog.

But there’s one thing we noticed this dog lacking when we first brought him home: he wouldn’t play.

Even my most recent dog played…and he was fifteen when we lost him.  But this dog just wouldn’t play…and he’s one.  He’d snuggle and give kisses and wag his tail, but he wouldn’t play.  We took him to PetSmart and he didn’t pick up one toy.  We would throw a ball, squeak a squeaky toy…still nothing.

For my family and I, his lack of play was sad.  We got him from our Vet, who had nursed him back to health after he’d been hit by a car.  Thankfully for the dog (and us), he’d been socialized, walked, and loved after his accident by the staff.  I’m sure they also tried to play with him, but my mom and I couldn’t help but wonder if his lack of play was because he’d essentially lived in a kennel for over 7 months.

Then one day, something changed.

Milo played.

The toys we’d purchased for him suddenly became interesting.  He jumped around, looking ridiculous, as he carried his ball around, tossed his tug-of-war rope, and chewed his squeaky toy.  He still doesn’t get games most dogs understand (like fetch, tug-of-war, or actually squeaking the squeaky toy), but he does play.

My Psychology mind can’t help but think that Milo now feels safe.  We can’t play unless we feel safe.  For Milo, that took a little longer than the average 1-year-old dog, but it came.

So what does it matter if Milo plays? Sure, it’s cute.  It brings my family joy to watch him.  I think it also helps him though.  The more he plays, the healthier he seems.  It’s almost like each time he plays, looks absolutely ridiculous, and is still praised, the more confident he is about his new home and his new family.

There are some obvious implications about Milo’s play for kids and I plan to write more about that on my website later, but I think there are also implications for adults.

  1.  Play is good.  Our society sexualizes and cheapens play.  Yes, play can be sexual and sexual play is good in the right context, but play isn’t always sexual and it certainly isn’t dirty…at least in the way it was designed.  Adult play is associated with sin in our culture, but God designed us to play.  When Jesus says “let the little children come to me” in Matthew 19:14, I can’t help but think that part of the reason this teaching was unusual was because most rabbis were not into the sticky fingers, silly games, and endless questions that come with kids.  Play is interwoven in each aspect interacting with children, but Jesus welcomed it.  He wasn’t afraid to play and I have a feeling He was willing to look silly too.  I think we are buried so deep in sin that we sometimes don’t even know how to play in a way that honors God.  So, we work.  At the office.  At church.  At home.  (Or we play in ways that don’t honor God.)  Even the silliest activities can be fun if you’re willing to actually engage, like watching my goofy dog play with his newly discovered toys.
  2.  Play is needed.  Like Milo, we all need to play.  It’s a way to rest, recover, and heal.  Play is also how we connect to others.  You have to be vulnerable to play.  If you want to play with someone, you first have to ask or initiate.  That could result in a “no,” but it could result in a “yes.”  The “yes” could mean doing something silly or embarrassing in front of another person.  There’s something about that vulnerability that helps us connect and bond…and we all need relationships.  Play also required our full attention, which goes hand-in-hand with connection.  To really play we can’t be on our phones or multitasking, we have to engage.
  3.  Play has to be intentional.  Yes, the hallmark of play is spontaneity, but how often are we really spontaneous in our culture? Rarely! If we don’t really set out to plan and prepare for play, we won’t play.  For Milo, he needed tools ready for play, so he had them there when he was ready.  He also needed the time to play.  His playing was eventually organic and spontaneous, but it wouldn’t have happened without some preparation.  For us, that probably means getting enough rest that we feel like playing and planning times to play.  What would it look like for you to be more intentional in that area?

So, let’s play! I’m leaving here to toss a ball to the furry friend sleeping by me, what are you going to do?

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A Legacy

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When I think about the word “legacy,” a couple of things immediately come to mind. One of the first is the title of a publication for an agency where I used to work.  I remember spending hours trying to format that publication.  The word “legacy” will always be associated with that publication as a result—for better or for worse.  As a twenty-something, I also tend to think of older generations.  Legacy sounds like something for people that are my parents’ or grandparents’ age.  It just doesn’t sound like something that really applies to me, the girl barely out of school and still referred to as a kid in many settings (though admittedly fewer and fewer as the years go by).

The past several years I’ve heard several fantastic sermons and read several blogs, devotionals, and Bible studies on leaving a legacy, forming a legacy, and so on. Hearing and reading those messages has made me associate the word “legacy” with things more powerful than grandma’s inheritance.

I think about the genealogy of Jesus (Matthew 1:1-17).   I am utterly amazed by how perfectly the Lord pieced together that lineage, but how He did that with such ridiculously imperfect people.

I think about the race we’re called to finish well (Hebrews 12:1; 1 Corinthians 9:24; Galatians 2:2).

I think about the countless Bible accounts where godly men and women finished so poorly (Solomon, Moses, Judas, David…and so many others).  Similarly, I think about how God redeemed even the worst screw-ups’ legacies (Exhibit A: Rahab being included in Jesus’ genealogy).

But I also think about the countless godly men and women I’ve seen destroy their reputations, and the many men and women I’ve seen the Lord use to redeem legacies. It is truly amazing to me how God can use one person (or couple) to break generational sins.

Maybe you clicked on this blog out of boredom and you really don’t see how a legacy applies to you. Honestly, I’ve been there.  When any preacher introduces a sermon with something about a legacy, there have been times when I just want to roll my eyes.  It’s easy to feel like this topic is overdone and it’s easy to feel like it isn’t applicable.  How in the world could leaving a legacy apply to me? I’m not married and I don’t have children.  Currently my family tree looks like it’s about as big as it’s going to get.  While I pray that many of the generational sins tainting the color of that tree stop with me, I don’t see new life budding without those stains.  Right now I just see the sins stopping and then the tree being chopped down for someone to use as firewood.  What kind of a legacy is that?

It’s not one.

But it’s also a lie from hell.

Remember Matthew 12:49-50 (HCSB),

And stretching out His hand toward His disciples, He said, “Here are My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of My Father in heaven, that person is My brother and sister and mother.”

Yes, biological family is a blessing from the Lord. Yes, God designed families.  But God designed an even more amazing blessing through a family of believers.

Don’t get me wrong, I love family.  Saying “good-bye” to my grandparents as a little girl was horrible for me.  The thing I wanted more than anything was to live in the same state as my family.  Since I was a little girl I’ve prayed for family.  Since I was a little girl that prayer continues to go unanswered.  Instead of drawing family closer or growing my family, it seems like more and more family members die or move away.  Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely adore the family I have, but I yearn for that to grow and for them to be closer.

God has answered the heart of that prayer though.  He’s provided grandparents, parents, siblings, and even children through His Church.  We may not look alike or share the same genes, but the bond and unity that lies within those relationships is something words don’t do justice.  It’s too much of a deep, beautiful experience to describe.  My heart still aches for biological family, but oh how sweet the spiritual legacy God provides.

So what’s your legacy? Who has the Lord used to bring spiritual life? For me, it would take more than a 700-word blog to list those that have gone before me in my spiritual family tree. Finally, who are you pouring into? The branches coming from mine are more sparse than they should be, but what an encouragement to see the ones I have blooming.

 

Silenced

Have you ever been shushed? Me too. As a kid, the only time I ever remember being punished by a teacher was for being a tattle-tale.  Needless to say, my bossy, know-it-all self was shushed a lot . . .

There are times for silence, but sometimes the process is unfair and hurtful. As I mentioned a few weeks ago in Multitasking? Or Not Connecting?, one of my drive-thru pet peeves is when people won’t get off their cell phones.  What’s worse is when people have the audacity to shush me when I’m taking their order or handing them their food.  My counseling professors would be quick to tell me I need to examine those emotions and see why their behavior bothers me so much.  I would agree, examining those emotions is the way to emotional health, but in my flesh I really would just like to yell the person’s order back to them or toss the person’s phone in the trash when they shush me.  (Thankfully, my co-workers spur me on to just kill our guests with kindness in these situations; otherwise, I’m sure my flesh would break me at some point.)

I’d love to say that the times I’m shushed now are all injustices and the shusher is always the one at fault, but that would be a lie. There are times I need to be silenced.  The problem is that silencing still hurts.  I immediately feel indignant and defensive.  Protests immediately start to flow from my heart and my mind.

I’m grateful that God doesn’t shush me. This in itself shows how patient and merciful He is.  Honestly, I couldn’t stand to listen to my countless complaints.  I don’t know how He listens to everyone’s complaints—and cares! But He does.  In fact, He even asks us to talk to Him about everything.  He encourages the questions and the doubts and the hurts to come to Him.  Even though God doesn’t shush us (not like the world does), I do think that God uses pieces of a silencing process.  I think there are times when I really can’t do anything to fix a situation, I can’t speak my peace, and God uses that to help me trust Him more.  He’s up for listening to me, but my own powerlessness in situations seems to be an important part of my own growth.  After all, He can take care of it, right? So in these times where I just can’t do anything—with actions or words—I get to trust Him more.  I also think after I bring my hurts to God that sometimes (okay, a lot of the time) God calls me out for my sin in those moments.  It may not be my sin that caused the situation (though sometimes it certainly is), but chances are I’ve responded with some sort of sin.

How has God silenced you lately? What is God whispering to you in the silence?

Shattered

Anyone that’s worked at a restaurant knows what it’s like to count down the minutes to the end of a shift.  It’s true, I’ve had some absolutely grueling last minutes in an office, but it just isn’t the same as those last few minutes of being on my feet, longing for a sip of cold water.  A few weeks ago, the thing that was getting me through my third day with a 9-hour shift (measly compared to some, but a lot for me) and my third 12-hour work day (I keep thinking maybe I’ll only have 1 job soon…) was this soda my boss gave me for employee appreciation day.  I don’t normally drink soda, but I was so excited about this soda.  It wasn’t just any soda, it was a glass bottle of pineapple soda.  (To those who somehow missed the memo, I love pineapple anything.)

The problem with this bottle of soda was that it had a lid requiring a bottle opener.  Being at a restaurant with the most sober group of co-workers imaginable, we were unable to open our soda gifts during work (there was not a bottle opener anywhere).  This made the build up for our sodas even more intense.  Truly, all I thought about the last four or so hours of my shift was taking a sip of that nice, cold pineapple soda.

I got my hopes up for something amazing.

Then finally my shift ended.  I drove home with my treasured soda nestled nicely in my cup holder.  I got to my door and as I turned to unlock the notoriously stubborn deadbolt, the soda fell from my hands.

In an instant, my soda was in a million pieces on my front porch and my hopes of an after work treat were shattered.

I’d love to tell you I handled this like a mature adult, but that would be a lie.  I stormed inside, took out my frustrations on my mom, cleaned up the glass, and pouted.  Yes, pouted.  Like a 4-year-old.

After a few tears, an apology, and more than a few pieces of chocolate, I started thinking about how often my hopes seem to end up like the pineapple soda on the front porch.  Frankly, I felt hurt.  Yes, it started with the ridiculous question, “Why God did you let me hope for that pineapple soda and take it away?  Can I not just have one joy in life?” But it ended with about a thousand other “whys” about areas where my life doesn’t feel fair and hopes seem shattered.

A few weeks ago I wrote a post called Dare to Hope.  I wrote about how inhibited I am by lack of hope.  I imagine there were (and are) others that struggle with those same inhibitions.  In that blog I mentioned that hope isn’t easy.  Disappointments are truly what drive my inhibitions, my lack of hope.  How many more shattered sodas can a girl take?!

In my flesh, I’m clearly unable to handle one shattered pineapple soda.  (Exhibit A: My 27-year-old pouting.)  In faith, I think the shattered hopes are often things that draw us to Jesus though.  Those broken pieces are where His love often seems to shine the brightest, and our cold hearts are forced to feel the warmth of His comfort.

I don’t think shattered hopes were part of God’s original plan.  I don’t think God designed the Garden of Eden to include heartbreak and tragedy.  I do, however, think there are times when God uses hope–even hope that ends in disappointment–to draw us to Him.

What I love about hope is the mysterious, but beautiful truth found in Romans 5:3-5 (ESV):

Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

Even in the midst of our sufferings and shattered dreams, God promises that hope will not put us to shame.  Take time to clean up after the shattered sodas.  But then keep hoping, friend!

The Chase

Growing up, my sister loved nothing more than a good chase. Tag of any kind was her absolute favorite game. She was fast, so it was no surprise that she never grew weary of the chase. I, however, was not, so I was inevitably the one chasing instead of being chased. There were countless times where tag ended in me being frustrated. (Except in the pool, then we were more equally suited.)

Maybe you were also the one chasing. You know how it feels to long to be able to just touch the sleeve of the person you were pursuing.

Being in a waiting season feels a bit like one of these unequally matched games of tag. There are so many longings that are just out of reach, and so many times I just want to throw my hands up and ask to play a new game. It’s easy to be out of breath, out of tricks, and out of hope.

Yet, even a pudgy girl chasing her beanpole sister can sometimes feel enough desire to drive a quick-paced chase on occasion.

For me, that chase has recently been toward Jesus. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not always chasing Jesus. My quiet times exist, but they’re often rushed and in a rut. But in a waiting season, there are times that motivate a chase. In this wait and others like it, I’ve literally ran to spend time with Jesus. I remember one occasion running with my Bible to get to a park bench and finally meet with Him.

I also remember times when I’ve so deeply desired to meet with Him, but every attempt has been squelched by some distraction. That can feel more like chasing my sister did.

Maybe you’re in a waiting season too. (After all, most seasons do have some element of waiting.) May I encourage you that the God of the Bible is worth the wait, is worth the chase, and makes Himself accessible to us.

One of my favorite accounts in the Bible is Luke 8:43-48 (HCSB),

43 A woman suffering from bleeding for 12 years,who had spent all she had on doctors yet could not be healed by any, 44 approached from behind and touched the tassel of His robe. Instantly her bleeding stopped.

45 “Who touched Me?” Jesus asked.

When they all denied it, Peter said, “Master, the crowds are hemming You in and pressing against You.”

46 “Someone did touch Me,” said Jesus. “I know that power has gone out from Me.” 47 When the woman saw that she was discovered, she came trembling and fell down before Him. In the presence of all the people, she declared the reason she had touched Him and how she was instantly cured. 48 “Daughter,” He said to her, “your faith has made you well. Go in peace.”

 This woman had a wait I cannot fathom, and her chase displays the weariness of an unquenched thirst.  But her relief was found in simply touching the tassel of the Savior’s robe.  Jesus doesn’t promise that our waits will end by chasing Him (…or that they’ll end at all on this side of Heaven).  He does, however, offer sweet relief for our weary, restless souls.  He is the One that never grows weary of pursuing our wayward souls.

Dare to Hope

If you know me, you know I love dogs.  I can spot a cute dog a mile away (or really any dog).  My favorite part of working the drive-thru is saying “hi” to all the furry co-pilots.  I also really love babies and kids, but I’m better with dogs (and I think people would be worried if I asked them to pet their kids).

One thing I love about kids and dogs is how uninhibited they are.  They are willing to unashamedly beg, cry, or do whatever they can to get a need met.  They don’t care how ridiculous they look.  Their focus is not on how other’s perceive them.

Uninhibited does not describe me.  In fact, I am exactly the opposite.  One of my friend’s in college loved the verse, “I will become even more undignified than this, and I will be humiliated in my own eyes” (2 Sam. 6:22a, NIV).  I, however, loved the verse, “A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls” (Prov. 25:28, ESV).

Now my friend didn’t run around campus naked (see 2 Sam. 6) and I certainly lack a lot of self-control (see my caloric intake for the week), but her willingness to expose any of her own imperfections for the sake of the gospel was a beautiful pairing with my desire to live a life according to His commands.  The key is: we need both.  I love the way 2 Timothy 1:7 pairs these two concepts, “For God has not given us a spirit of fearfulness, but one of power, love, and sound judgment.”  To God, sound judgment and fearfulness do not go together.  That’s just my skewed version.

People like my friend are rare.  I know very few people as daring as she is.  It’s no surprise that she’s living overseas doing amazing things for Jesus.  Something only someone living by the Spirit could do.  I, however, am pretty normal.  I see a lot of me around.  I see a lot fearfulness guised as self-control.

Knowing me, I’d probably be saying some sort of “but” right now if I were reading this post.

but self-control is biblical!

but the world is a scary place!

but my fearfulness is legit! Look what happened last time I was brave!

So, yes, self-control is biblical.  Please exercise self-control.  Please strive to live a life according to the Bible.  But if you’re like me, check your motives before playing the “self-control” card.  What would it look like to be brave? For most, that’ll include some form of self-control.  It might mean budgeting better so you can bravely donate more money.  It might mean ending a gossip session to bravely share your story.  It might mean skipping lunch to bravely fast and pray.  It could also mean bravely hoping or dreaming again.

(Here’s where I know the “but” would be causing me to want to exit out of this page…hang with me!)

It took my friend 8, hope-filled years to get overseas.  While living here, her heart was torn.  She desperately wanted to go and serve the people God called her to serve.  She kept hitting these road bumps though.  To anyone else, those bumps would have been mountains.  To me, they probably would’ve caused me to look for a different destination.  God used those bumps (or mountains) to create a beautiful step stool for her to get where He called her.  The journey wasn’t easy, it was grueling.  In fact, being there has continued difficulties because of those horrible bumps.  However, she never stopped looking to the goal.  She dared to hope.

When people used to say to me “I just don’t want to get my hopes up,” I used to say, “but that’s what hopes are made for!” I’m not sure that was the most empathic response and I haven’t said it in years, but I do think there is something to be said for that mentality.  Shouldn’t people of faith be the most hope-filled?

How can you dare to hope today? What is it you’re afraid to hope for? How does fear get in the way of living a life of uninhibited faith for the Lord?

Multitasking? Or Not Connecting?

Empathy seems to be a buzz word in my life right now.  It may just be the whole trying to be a therapist thing that makes me keenly aware of the word, but it seems to be everywhere.

As my lack of blogging reflects, lately I’ve been busy.  Probably too busy. I don’t feel that busy.  After all, I’m not juggling as many things as years past, but I think even just working more than full-time is enough to squeeze away any extra space in my ever-changing schedule.  Fast.  The problem is busyness seems to be what destroys empathy the fastest.  I’ve seen that in my own life, but I also see it in the lives of others.  I could give countless examples of this busyness-over-empathy phenomenon, but the example that comes up six days a week for me is in the drive-thru. 

When working at a fast food restaurant (or as Chick-fil-A describes themselves, “a quick service restaurant”), you see the worst of rushed people.  One of my co-workers often quotes the saying “a lack of planning on your part doesn’t constitute an emergency on my part,” but laughs and says “unless you work here!” Her sarcastic remark about sums up our day-to-day experience with catering orders, but in the rush of each order at the drive-thru we see other mini-emergencies hundreds of times a day.  Suddenly, workers go from being people to robots. Despite our best attempts at connecting with guests, our guests often seem to forget they are interacting with people.  (In their defense, we do get them when they’re hangry.  I, too, am not my best right before I eat.) Though so many of our guests are kind, caring people even in their lunch emergencies, the rushed guests tend to taint each shift.  Talking on the phone during a transaction is one of my personal pet peeves.  Drive-thru phone talkers are always distracted, but somehow their distracted mistakes always manage to be our fault.  Their self-focus and lack of listening tends to squelch their ability to really engage.  After rushing through a transaction with a team member, the drive-thru phone talkers often apologize to the person on the other end of the phone (the human that means something to them) and whiz past our workers (who also happen to be human) without a second thought.  This behavior displays so well our busyness-over-empathy society, and our choice to multitask over connect.

Brené Brown describes this so well in a blog post, ironically also written about the same quick service restaurant.  I’ve read a lot of her research, so I’m sure much of what I write on this topic is influenced by her work (whether I realize it or not)…and she writes a lot better than I do!

Our capacity to empathize is so often limited by our inability to listen. Really listen. Do you ever get tired of listening? I do and I’m supposed to making a career out of listening.  It gets old hearing the same thing over and over again.  Close friends would tell you that I often become an advice-giver or a fixer instead of a true listener when I’ve heard the same problem over and over again.  The problem with that (other than that makes for a terrible therapist) is that it lacks empathy.  As a Christian, I would even assert that it lacks love (see 1 Corinthians 13). 

To empathize better, I need to listen better to my friends.  However, I think there are also some smaller steps I need to take.  When the hangry guest comes through the drive-thru, I may need to try to read between the lines of their mini-emergency.  Chick-fil-A also has a powerful training video that displays empathy well, Every Life Has a Story.  Knowing that every life does have a story—from whatever perspective—I want to hear those stories and love the people behind them better.

Where can you listen, empathize, and connect better?

For me, questions that also help me assess this better are:

When/where do I need to multitask less?

When is my own schedule getting in the way of my willingness to listen, empathize, and connect?

Who have I interacted with transactionally today?

When did I treat someone (anyone) as less than human today?

Who can I listen to better?

Apps to Start 2017 Right

Recently I shared some of my top reads for 2016.  Books are some of my greatest resources, but recently God used some apps to really enhance different areas of my life.  I love the convenience of apps, especially for trying to develop/improve certain disciplines.  In grad school, we constantly shared good apps with each other and I hope these will help you in whatever your 2017 resolutions are! Haven’t thought of a resolution? Maybe this list will help.  Aren’t into resolutions? That’s okay too, maybe this will just help with wherever God’s leading you.

fullsizerenderScripture Typer – App to Help Memorize Scripture

…and it actually helps! Scripture memory is one of my worst spiritual disciplines, but this app has helped me so much.  You can choose any verse and version unlike some of the other Bible memory apps.  As the name suggests, you type the verses to memorize them–a huge help for visual learners–but there are also several other ways to learn the verses (including recording and listening to them).  The app also notifies you when it’s time to review the verses.  If you’re a classmate of mine from seminary, you’re already aware of this little gem.  My professor that had us memorize the book of Philippians encouraged us to use this app.  That was when I first discovered it and I’ve been hooked ever since! This app is one of those you pay for (which goes against everything I typically believe about apps), but it’s worth it.  I actually paid for the pro version (breaking another cardinal rule of mine), but I haven’t regretted it at all!

fullsizerender_2Rain Rain – App to Help Sleep

I hate to admit it, but I’m one of those people that needs some sort of white noise while I sleep.  This started while I was trying to block out noisy roommates and has just gone downhill.  Usually I sleep with a fan (often pointed away from my cold-natured self), but this app helps when I’m sleeping away from home.  There are a lot of noise options that you can mix and match: rain, campfire, snow, laundry machines, and more.  If I have a lot on my mind, this app can also help me think about being in a cozy log cabin or at the beach for vacation.  This app is free and totally worth the download.

fullsizerender_3Stop, Breathe, Think – An App to Slow Down and Take Care of Yourself

This app is not a Christian app and some of it is a little wordly (depending on what option you choose within the app–some are better than others).  It’s an app to encourage “mindfulness,” which basically means paying attention to what you’re feeling in your body and your emotions.  That practice may seem a little silly, but it’s been a big help for me.  I used to intentionally do this app three times/day.  When I did, I noticed sometimes I had knots in my stomach or tension in my shoulders.  Inevitably, this was caused by some sort of stress, but I didn’t even realize I was stressed until I stopped to check-in.  In the busy, stressful world we live in, I think this app encourages better health.  I also think it’s easy to incorporate prayer and thanksgiving into this practice, making it a time to set aside with God.  It’s free, so try it out!

fullsizerender_4iMood Journal – An App to Track Moods

This is an app I discovered a few years ago, but it is one that I would still recommend to anyone.  If you haven’t ever tracked your moods, please do! It’s amazing the patterns that emerge and how God can use that in such a transforming way.  I’ll admit that this is a very counselor-y thing to assign, but I’ve seen it change my life and the lives of others.  It’s been long enough that I don’t remember if I paid for this app, but I know there are numerous mood tracking apps and several are free.

Hope this helps give you some ideas for 2017! I’d love to hear about some of your favorite apps or your goals for the new year!

 

Zooming-In: My Top Reads of 2016

It’s hard to believe that 2016 is almost over.  It’s been a rollercoaster of a year!

For me, it’s good to zoom-in, reflecting on what God has done.  After that, it’s easier for me to zoom-out and get a glimpse of the beautiful picture He painted for the year (even if it’s only a piece of my life’s puzzle and it’s still difficult to see what He’s shaping up there).  One of the ways that helps me zoom-in is looking at the books I’ve read the past year.  Many years that means I’m basically looking at a bunch of textbooks, but this year I have gotten to read a few more non-textbooks that people may actually be interested in reading.  I tried not to geek out too much with my selections.

Before I list them for you, please note that I don’t necessarily endorse any of these authors and none of these books are perfect.  Some authors are Christians, some aren’t.  Most are Christians, but I don’t necessarily agree with every word they’ve written and I know they’re each capable of falling off the deep end (like me, apart from the grace of God).  I’d also like to say that the book I do wholeheartedly endorse is the Bible, and if you’re not reading that please skip these books and dive straight into that one.  That book absolutely impacted me the most this year.  The two books of the Bible really impacted me in 2016 are the Psalms and Philippians.  Feel free to take those recommendations over any of the ones I’m about to list.  Also, the books below aren’t exactly in order of how I’d recommend them.  It’s just too hard to pick a favorite!

Hinds’ Feet on High Places by Hannah Hurnard

I received this little gem for graduation, but have already recommended it to countless people.   It’s an allegory about Much-Afraid, who has to develop hinds’ feet so she can climb the high places with the Great Shepherd.  I have the devotional version, which includes Scripture reflection, but any version does an excellent job promoting self-reflection in an easy-to-read and insightful way.  I especially love the way it addresses suffering.  One of my favorite quotes from it is the Shepherd saying, “Go with Sorrow and Suffering, and if you cannot welcome them now, when you come to the difficult places where you cannot manage alone, put your hands in theirs confidently and they will take you exactly where I want you to go” (page 62).

The Wounded Heart: Hope for Adult Victims of Childhood Sexual Abuse by Dr. Dan B. Allender

A lot of people reading this blog have no interest in this topic.  I can’t say that I blame you, it’s a tough one! But for those that interact with people touched by this difficult topic (and chances are everyone knows someone, whether you realize it or not), I would highly recommend this book.  It is the best book I’ve seen on this topic from a Christian perspective.  For mental health professionals and ministers, it is a must-read.  I would recommend caution in giving this book to anyone that’s experienced sexual abuse.  Be sure they have a good support system and are already getting help before giving them this book.  It could be very triggering and difficult to read for someone with those experiences.

Image result for the gifts of imperfectionThe Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are by Brené Brown

This book isn’t written from a biblical worldview, but it does offer some incredible reflections about topics that align with the truth of Scripture.  For those unfamiliar with Brené Brown, she is a shame researcher.  Because the Bible speaks so readily about the results of shame, I truly believe Brené Brown’s research offers some excellent insights on how to live a life more wholeheartedly in love with the Lord.  I would caution the reader that there is some language in the book and some of the points suggest that our hope comes from within ourselves, which I would substitute for coming from God.

Image result for uninvited bookUninvited: Living Loved When You Feel Less Than, Left Out, and Lonely by Lysa TerKeurst

 Anyone that’s read or listened to Lysa TerKeurst knows that she’s extremely funny and engaging.  She writes very transparently about “living loved” and uses some great illustrations to explain how to do that better.  This book is geared specifically for women and I would truly recommend it for any woman.  The last chapters offer some especially useful tools for self-examination…and are very convicting!

Image result for ministering cross culturallyMinistering Cross-Culturally: An Incarnational Model for Personal Relationships by Sherwood G. Lingenfelter and Marvin K. Mayers

I’ll confess this was technically a textbook assigned in my multicultural counseling class, BUT it’s not your average textbook.  This little guy is only 128 pages (including the index, table of contents, etc.) and covers topics that are incredibly applicable and practical…and relevant in the cross-cultural world we live in today!  Like all the books that I’d consider my top reads of 2016, this book makes you think.  It does provide a lot of interesting information from a Christian perspective, but I promise it isn’t overly academic.

Image result for change the conversation samantha hanniChange the Conversation: Teens, Dating, & the Church by Samantha Hanni

Friend or not, it says a lot that I am listing a dating book in a top reads list of less than ten books. When you’ve worked with a lot of teen girls and been single for a long time, you feel like you’ve heard just about every Christian dating thought imaginable. However, the transparency of Samantha’s writing and her fresh, grace-filled perspective made it a definite must on this list. Samantha shares sweet stories, deep thoughts, and Christ’s love in an easy-to-read format that I read in a couple hours. There are countless good quotes, but one of my favs was in the intro on page 2, “[The church] has failed to paint purity as a lifestyle; a lifestyle to be pursued before and during marriage, not a checklist of do’s and don’ts.” The only shame of this book is that more people don’t know about it! Seriously, go order it today (http://mrshanni.com/)!

Image result for every bitter thing is sweetEvery Bitter Thing is Sweet by Sara Hagerty

I love the way this book is written, the author’s transparency, and the imagery of God’s love in this book.  I’ll admit the title is a bit like a slap in the face when you’re actually experiencing something bitter, but I would truly recommend it to anyone.  I cannot relate to many (okay…most) of the struggles the author describes, but this book gave me such a sweet perspective of God’s love in the midst of trials.  Read it before you’re in the midst of something bitter, read it during a bitter season, or read it while a friend is in a bitter season.

Image result for sin and grace bookSin and Grace in Christian Counseling by Mark R. McMinn

Okay, okay, it was technically another textbook, but this too looks more like a short novel. I’ve read a lot of non-textbooks that aren’t on this list that I really enjoyed, so for this to make it says a lot about its content. This book would probably bore most people, but if you’re a Christian therapist or mental health professional…it’s another must read. It points to the gospel so well. I’ll admit that it’s the closest I’ve come to geeking out in this list because it’s a little technical, but it’s impacted my life too much to exclude it.

Zooming Out…

After listing those books, there are some themes I could easily identify: reflection, Jesus, mental health…and others.  But I can also see God’s hand in each of those books and the hours, days, or weeks I spent reading them.  It’s also just a sweet reminder about what God taught me through each of those reads.

My sister and friends often say that my down time is too productive, and it would benefit me to just do something fun.  That’s not entirely true, but this list probably also screams “read something fun!” And I would agree.  I did read a few more fun things that aren’t listed (though they also weren’t as enjoyed), but a goal for 2017 is definitely reading (and doing) more fun things.

What are some of the books you’ve read? Want to read? Would recommend?