Monday, March 14, 2016

Book Review - And It Was Beautiful: Celebrating Life in the Midst of the Long Good-Bye by Kara Tippetts

Several years ago, my sister-in-law shared a blog post on her Facebook page that was written by the mom of one of her Pre-K students.  This woman - a pastor's wife, mom of four, and beloved friend to many - had recently been diagnosed with breast cancer and she blogged as a way to update her friends and family on her illness.  Something about that first post I read drew me in, and after I'd tucked my kids into bed that evening, I went back in the archives and read the entire blog from the beginning.  Over the next couple of hours, Kara Tippetts worked her way into my heart.

Kara blogged regularly throughout her cancer journey, and her readership grew steadily.  She wrote honestly about the battle she was fighting, how it affected her not only physically, but spiritually as well.  One of Kara's goals was to find God's goodness in the midst of her suffering, and He was faithful to help her find it.  Kara wrote beautifully about this in her first book, The Hardest Peace.  In her last months, she also coauthored Just Show Up, a book about living in community and walking through times of suffering with others.

Kara's blog crashed awhile back, and sadly, all of her posts were lost.  Thankfully, she had saved them to her computer, but the site was unable to be restored.  Her final book, And It Was Beautiful, is a compilation of many of those posts, along with other writings, and it is SO good.  Even though I'd read most of it as the original blog, and I knew how Kara's earthly story would come to an end, I was still completely drawn in.  Turning the page to Act Four in the book, and seeing the chapter title, "Letter to My Readers Upon My Death", caused a lump to form in my throat and my heart to sink again.  It obviously wasn't a surprise to me, but it still took me back to the day Kara went Home and the tears came again...for her husband, for her kids, for her community.  They have all modeled well how to grieve with hope.  She was so loved.

As the one year marker of Kara's "[flying] away to the land of no more tears" (p. 246) approaches, reading this book has been a fresh reminder to me of the ways Kara inspired us to look for the grace in every situation.  How very blessed I was by her words, and how very much I miss her voice here on earth.

*Disclaimer - I received a complimentary copy of this book from Litfuse Publicity in exchange for my honest review.*

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Tuesday Grace Letters - A letter to Kara

Last year (the last time I blogged...*gulp*), I participated in a blog link-up with another blogger, Kara at Mundane Faithfulness.  We called those posts "Tuesday Grace Letters", and we wrote to ourselves, our loved varied week by week.  Over the past year, Kara's story has received much attention.  She is a wife and mom from Colorado who has been battling cancer.  Earlier this year, it was discovered that treatment was no longer working.  Kara entered into Hospice care and has blogged quite honestly and beautifully about "the long goodbye" she is living out. 
Like many of you, I have been completely drawn in by her story.  I have cried reading her posts and prayed for her and her family.  Today I wanted to write another Tuesday Grace Letter...this one, to Kara. 

Dear Kara,

I have started and re-started this letter at least half a dozen times already.  It feels a little unnatural to be writing this.  I’m not one of your ‘people’…those closest to you who truly know you, who have walked beside you throughout this journey and helped carry you to where you are today.  I’m only a wife and mom in Michigan who heard your story a couple of years ago from my sister-in-law, Leigh, your sweet girl’s teacher.  The day she shared your blog with me, I stayed up late into the night reading your posts, totally taken by your honesty and openness. 

You have challenged me to allow God’s grace and mercy to fill in my rough spaces and then be shown to those around me.  It’s not easy.  It’s hard to move toward difficult people and circumstances in love and grace.  It’s hard to take the deep breath and count to ten before responding with a sharp answer.  It’s hard to enter into the suffering of another when we risk being hurt ourselves. 

I know that the desire of your heart in all of this is that we would be pointed to Jesus, not Kara.  I see Him in you.  I see the way His love has helped you to love your people well.  I see the way His grace and faithfulness have carried you through this journey.  I see the hearts He’s changed through your obedience and faith…mine is one of them. 

It has been a privilege to pray for you, Jason, and your family…to pray for your community, those faithful friends who have taught me how to love another in their suffering.  Every single one has used their unique gifts and abilities, working together as the Body was designed.  It’s been beautiful to witness. 

You are loved, Kara.  Thank you…just thank you. 


Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Tuesday Grace Letters - Grace in 2010-2014

This week's assignment from Kara was to write a letter to a time grace met us in a hard season of life.  What a gift to be able to write this letter today. 

Dear Grace in 2010 – 2014,

Four years ago last week, I was at the lowest part of ‘the pit’.  I had fought battle after battle with depression for eight long years, sometimes feeling like I’d won a victory, but it was always short-lived.  The lies that I’d begun to believe about myself took over.  I was not the wife, mother, sister, friend, fill-in-the-blank that I should be, so there was no reason for me to be here, right?  Surely everyone would be better off without me. 

Thankfully, I was (and still am) surrounded by people who loved me and made difficult decisions that ultimately led to the healing I have received.  It was not easy.  In fact, it was one of the most painful times I’ve ever experienced, and it still stings to re-live it.  But…Grace.  You have shown up in some beautiful and amazing ways in the years since that pit attempted to swallow me whole.  Restoration has come in my treasured relationships, and a peace has settled in my heart.  Yes, there are still some days that I hear the old familiar call of the Enemy and am tempted to wallow.  But…Grace.  You remind me that I’m not who I was, that I’ve been healed and changed in ways I may not fully see yet.  You let me know that even though those days were some of the most painful I’ve known, God will not waste that pain. 

One of the books that was most helpful to me during my healing was Defeating Depression: Real Hope for Life-changing Wholeness by Leslie Vernick.  At one point, Vernick quotes Charles Spurgeon, who said, “I often feel very grateful to God that I have undergone fearful depression of spirits.  I know the borders of despair, and the horrible brink of that gulf of darkness into which my feet have almost gone; but hundreds of times I have been able to give a helpful grip to brethren and sisters who have come into that same condition, which grip I could never have given if I had not known their deep despondency.” (p. 222).  My pain is not wasted.  I’m beginning to see it as a gift that I can share with others, to encourage them that they are not alone, that they have worth and value and are needed. 

So, past four years…thank you.  I’m grateful to have been lifted out of the pit and to have experienced the growth and change that you have held for me.  I’m grateful for the lessons I’ve learned, the forgiveness that’s been extended and given, the better understanding I have of my God, and the deepening of relationships that might not otherwise have occurred.  And I’m grateful for Grace." title="Mundane Faithfulness">
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(Please forgive the technical difficulty!)

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Tuesday Grace Letter - Free Week

This week's assignment from Kara at Mundane Faithfulness is this:  Share your heart. Write a love letter of grace of your choosing. 

This week I'm writing to my friends. 

To my friends,

I’ve tried to be intentional over the years about telling you what I appreciate about you, but I haven’t always succeeded.  Life gets busy, kids get sick, projects need tending, and intentions fall by the wayside.  I hope you know how much you mean to me. 

Maybe you were one of my first friends ever.  We spent hours playing outside, swinging on swing sets, rolling down hills, learning to ride our bikes.  You were the first friends I had to say goodbye to as we moved away (the first of many times).  And over those years of moving and growing and coming home again, you were still there.  You still are.  We don’t have a shared history of sleepovers and secrets, but you will forever be my friend.  And I am grateful for you.

Maybe you were my elementary and middle school friends.  We spent our time learning together, working together, and growing together.  We had misunderstandings, popularity contests, typical drama that comes along with learning how the world works.  We shared makeup and clothes, spent hours on the phone, and fought over boys.  You were the next groups of friends I had to say goodbye to as we moved away… again.  And I am grateful for you.

Maybe you were my high school friends.  At each of the high schools I attended, I was ‘the new girl’.  You made that easier for me.  We helped each other navigate through the hard years of figuring out who we were and what we believed.  We shared secrets and heartbreak, passed notes in the halls, and tried not to get caught reading them during class.  We swore we’d be Best Friends Forever in our yearbooks and promised to ‘KIT’ over the summer.  J  And I am grateful for you.

Maybe you were my college friends (either at Calvin or KCC).  We leaned on each other as we spread those wings our parents gave us and tested our newfound freedom.  We shared bathrooms and dorm rooms, spent hours studying and taking breaks to watch “Friends” and “ER” down the hall, and worked in Clinic, learning how to clean teeth over a three hour appointment (which we were then expected to shrink into one hour after we got real jobs???).  We shared engagements and weddings, poring over Brides magazines during breaks.  We grew up together.  And I am grateful for you. 

And maybe you’re one of my ‘adult’ friends.   We’ve shared the real world together and I’ve learned so much from you.  You might be married or single, you might have kids or not.  You’ve seen me at my best, you’ve seen me at my worst.  You have supported our family through joys and pain, and have given of yourself in so many ways.  You challenge me to continue to grow in my faith and be the best ME I can be.  And I am grateful for you. 

Thank you to every one of you I’ve been privileged to call ‘friend’ over the years.  The experiences we’ve shared have helped shape me into the person I am today…and I am grateful for you." title="Mundane Faithfulness">
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Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Tuesday Grace Letters #2

Today's assignment for Tuesday Grace Letters is:  a love and gratitude letter to someone who has made a difference in your story. A letter of thanks to someone from your past that has changed your tomorrows. Someone who has loved you well and taught you about life. Write them a letter of love and grace.

The moment I read that last week, I knew the person I would write to.  This woman is one of the people I hold closest in my heart.  She has been my enthusiastic cheerleader, my faithful encourager, my gentle admonisher, my wise counselor, and a precious sister in Christ.  She's known to drop everything and supply a coffee maker when yours dies on a day you're stuck at home with a sick little.  She's known to find you a bargain replacement coffee maker while she's shopping and will grab it for you and drop it off on her way home.  She's known to be very organized and can help you bring order to chaos.  She's known as an amazing nurse and uses the gifts God gave her with much compassion and precision.  She's known to call and check up on you after you've had surgery, and will pick up a rotisserie chicken and Gatorade for you when she hears how miserable you sound, knowing you need some protein and hydration.  She's known to be a survivor, as she faced the fight of her life and beat breast cancer just over three years ago.  And she's known to hand you a blanket and a hot mug when you show up at her house near tears, inviting you to sit on the couch and spill what's on your heart, not letting you leave until she shares Truth and prays with you.  She's also very humble and will probably want to punch me for this.  :)

                                                          She's my Rachel.

                           (Sorry I 'borrowed' a Facebook pic, friend!)  :)

My dear Rachel,

I can't remember the exact moment we met, can you?  It may have been in a Sunday morning service, or in an Adult Bible Fellowship class, or just passing in the halls at church.  I do remember our friendship beginning to grow, though - serving in the nursery together when Devon and Annaliese were babies (how is it they're in Middle School together now?), Tuesday morning Bible studies, small groups.  Little moments of time that built trust and transparency, which grew into this sweet friendship we share today.

Thank you for teaching me more about Jesus in the way you live your life.  You are one of the strongest women I know, yet your gentle and quiet spirit is so evident.  The way you honor and respect your husband is a great reminder to me to hold my tongue when I might be tempted to be critical or say something unkind about my own marriage.  The creativity and energy you have when it comes to raising your three boys challenges me to parent differently, to point my kids to Jesus and to encourage them to be more like Him, recognizing that they all have different personalities and needs. 

The courage and utter dependence on God that you showed as you "Fought Like a Girl" and kicked cancer's behind inspired all of us who prayed for you as you walked that road.   I will never forget the day I went with you as you received chemo.  I don't think you knew the privilege it was for me to be allowed into your difficult in that way.  Thank you for trusting me with that. 

One of my favorite things about you is your knowledge of God's Word.  I LOVE that when I come to you with something heavy weighing on my heart, you let me vent, but you ALWAYS point me to TRUTH.  (I also love the motions you can whip out to help commit those verses to memory...seriously.)  Thank you for being faithful to Him in this way. 

I'm sure I've gone on longer than you would like, and I could keep going, but I'll stop.  :)   I'm realizing more and more that life is short.  We don't know which breath will be our last, and I don't want to have any regrets when it comes to things unsaid.  Thank you for loving me well as your friend and sister.  You are a precious gift to me and all of us who love you!


Mundane Faithfulness

Monday, March 10, 2014

Pulling Back the Shades

Over the past month or so, you've likely seen me post about two books I've been reading in advance of their release as part of their launch teams.  Today I'm going to talk about one of them, but I need to warn you - this one has me a little nervous. 

You see, I'm a peace-keeper by nature.  I don't like controversy or confrontation, so I usually keep my little opinions to myself.  I fear looking stupid or un-educated, worry about rocking the boat, and usually don't say much about topics that might be a little uncomfortable.  But you see, I've read this book and for some reason I need to talk about it.  (Of course, that was one of the conditions of being part of the launch team - I got a copy of the book for free and agreed to give an honest review of it when I finished.)  :)  I have a feeling, though, that even if I hadn't been part of the launch team, I'd still feel the need to discuss this book, to share with you what I've learned and what has been on my mind since I finished it.   

A little disclaimer:  This blog post contains some sensitive subject material (sexuality) so if you're easily offended by that or if you're one of my younger friends, it's OK if you close this window right now.  Also, by sharing this with you, I realize I'm opening up a discussion that needs to happen.  I only ask that you are respectful in your comments (here or on Facebook), and that you remember I'm writing from MY perspective: that of a 30-something Christian wife, mother, and friend. 

“This book is not ultimately about the Fifty Shades series or even about erotica.  This book is about the spiritual battle for the hearts and souls of women.” (PBTS, p. 146)

About two years ago, I came across a blog post entitled, “I’m Not Reading Fifty Shades of Grey”, written by Christian author and speaker, Dannah Gresh.  I had heard some buzz about the book series, but I didn't consider reading them.  The romance/erotic fiction genre of books isn’t of interest to me, and is one I purposely avoid.  I'll admit, my initial reason for this wasn't an overly 'spiritual' one, but was out of respect for Jared.   If he is committed to avoiding tempting images, shouldn't I refrain from filling my mind with them as well?   The blog post generated a lot of discussion.  People held strong opinions about whether the books were good or bad.  What surprised me most, though, was the number of Christian women who defended the series.  (Interesting quote from a more recent post on Dannah's blog: There’s no statistical difference in the percentage of Christian vs overall women who’ve read the Fifty Shades of Grey series.)

Fast forward almost two years.  Dannah Gresh posted on her Facebook page that she and Dr. Juli Slattery have written a book in response to the series and the effect it, and other books like it, have had on our culture, our minds, and our marriages.  Applications were being taken for a spot on the book’s launch team, so I gave it a shot and was chosen. 

This book was written from the perspective that “spirituality and sexuality were never meant to be mutually exclusive” (PBTS, back cover).  For years, the topic of Biblical sexuality has been so under-discussed in the Church, it’s almost become taboo.  The fact is we were created as sexual beings.  Women (Christian women included) have desires that they long to have fulfilled, yet, for many different reasons (unmarried, past abuse, dysfunction in marriage), they cannot.  This is where erotica can come in.  "No man needed, no risks of heartbreak involved, you don't even have to put on makeup...just start reading and you can have your body and mind awakened any time you want" (PBTS p. 24).   Even though it may seem innocuous and a better choice than casual sex, having an affair or viewing pornography on the Internet, this is dangerous ground to tread.  The authors felt burdened by the number of women turning to erotica and trying to have their longings met by fantasy, so they joined forces and wrote this book.  As they state in the beginning pages, “We want to be very clear: your sexual desire is not wrong.  God created you to be sexual.  Your body and your mind are wired to long for sexual pleasure and intimacy.  Unfortunately, many religious messages separate being a sexual woman from being a spiritual woman…You don’t have to turn off your desire to know God in order to turn on your desire to be sexual” (PBTS, p. 25).  
Over the nine easy-to- read chapters of the book, Gresh and Slattery explore the effect “mommy porn” (erotica) has on women, what boundaries we should set when it comes to sex, disturbing sexual practices (common themes in the Fifty Shades trilogy), sexual satisfaction, and spiritual satisfaction.  There is no shaming of the reader who may have read the series or other books in the genre, only a deeper understanding of why we’re drawn to them, a sharing of Biblical truth and encouragement to live differently.  Each chapter is written candidly and thoughtfully, and sensitive topics are discussed with grace and compassion. 

While it seems much of the content is intended for married women, the authors recognize that single women also struggle with some of the same temptations and issues.  Single readers are well-included in the book, but might be frustrated by the lack of practical advice to help them pursue purity and contentment.  With the evidence given that some girls have been exposed to erotica at ages as young as nine years old, it’s obvious this is a topic that needs to be discussed in our families.  However, I would caution parents to read this book prior to letting a student under college age read it.

Pulling Back the Shades is wonderfully summed up in this excerpt:  “We’re supposed to be making different choices and living a different kind of life than the rest of the world.  While you certainly can and should celebrate your sexuality, there is also discretion required of the Christian woman who seeks to have her sex life be what God designed it to be: a picture of His passionate love for His people!  God’s Word clearly calls us to live our lives as He designed them to be lived in all areas, including sex.  This demands that we choose a different path than the world’s way.  He calls us to holiness.”  (PBTS p. 134)
If you're interested in hearing more about the book, please feel free to message me.  From now until March 31st, Dannah Gresh  is offering 50% off Pulling Back the Shades  on her website.  Just enter the coupon code FIFTY at checkout.  Amazon's stock was sold out as of March 7th, but they do have the Kindle version available for a little over $7. 
I hope my motives are clear here.  I am not condemning anyone who has read the Fifty Shades books.  I am not perfect, and I certainly never will be, but if you are struggling with erotica or other forms of pornography, please know that I am available to talk with you (confidentially, of course).  So many times, things continue to hold power over people because they stay hidden.  I would love to point you in the direction of some resources that can help you. 


Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Tuesday Grace Letters #1

Wow, has it been a long time since my last post!  I've had several posts rolling around in my head for months, but never made the time to sit down and get them out.  Thankfully, a fellow blogger issued a little challenge, and I decided to jump in.  Time to dust off the keyboard and do some writing. 

I've never met Kara, but I was introduced to her story by my sister-in-law, who happens to be Kara's youngest daughter's teacher.  I clicked on the post my sister shared, and was immediately taken in.  Kara has walked a path that many women are called to walk, yet has done it with a grace and faith that is rarely seen and shared so vulnerably.  I encourage you to take some time to read Kara's story.  (Note: Have tissues nearby!) 

This week's challenge from Kara is this: "I want to you write a letter of grace to yourself 10 years from today. Include pictures of your life now, but hopes and dreams and fears you have for yourself, your loves, your life in ten years. Speak hopes for love, growth, hopes, and fears. Do what you do best. Write from your heart to the hearts of your loves." 
Obviously, I don't know what the future holds.  Any member of my immediate family may not be here ten years from now.  But it is my hope that we are still together, living this life God has given us, and hopefully, doing it well.  Here is my letter to 2024...

Dear 2024,

When I was a kid, this year seemed impossibly far away.  Wasn’t that science-fiction material?  Surely we wouldn’t still be around, and if we were, we’d be beaming ourselves everywhere we wanted to go, right?  I have no idea what God has in store for my future, but I’d like to talk to those who mean the most to me for a moment. 

Luke, my first-born, you are twenty-four.  Yikes.  When I was 24, I was in my second year as a wife and a brand new mama to you.  I knew everything and I knew nothing.  You have always been quick to remind me that you will probably be married by now.  The fact that you wanted to marry ‘young’ made me smile, grateful that the mistakes your Dad and I have made didn’t ruin it for you.  I pray that the woman you choose to spend your life with loves Jesus more than anything (yes, even you!), and that you love, serve and protect her the way your Dad so faithfully has demonstrated in his love for me.  I pray that the vocation you are pursuing is in line with the gifts and abilities God has granted you.  I hope it is something you are passionate about, and that you have the same work ethic your Dad has.  Do the job God has put before you, and do it well.  Have integrity and don’t be afraid to stand for what is right.  Use the brilliant mind He has given you to create, figure things out, and continue to learn no matter how old you are.  And if God makes you a father this year at the same age he did your Dad…I will be a very young grandma.  J  I pray I am here to see you experience the unexplainable feelings you will have as you start that journey.  You’ll understand us a lot better.   

Annaliese, you are 22.  The age I was when your Dad and I were married.  From the early days of your life, you’ve been a fighter.  You fought to stay with us when you were just two weeks old, and I will never forget the sound of the machines beeping like crazy as your breathing stopped.  I thank God that we got to bring you home and see you grow.  You endured so much in your young life.  Hospital visits, the first broken bone in our family (ouch!), countless breathing treatments, x-rays, and IVs.  It all made you stronger.   Your tenacity has been a hard thing to balance out at times as you grew…knowing when it was appropriate to stand your ground, knowing when to let go.  I’ve always felt that God would use this part of your personality in a big way, for His purposes.  When you were young, though, it sure was hard to rein in and kept your Dad and me on our knees.  J  I pray that if God has marriage in His plan for you, that the boy he brings to you loves you the way your Dad loves me.  Don’t be afraid to be tender, to allow yourself to be cared for and protected.  Your independent nature may make that hard, but I pray that your heart is open.  You’ve likely finished college by now and are pursuing a career.  I pray that no matter where God puts you, you fight for others, however that looks.  And always, depend on HIM for the strength to keep fighting. 

Adam, this year finds you at 20, likely right in the middle of your college years.  You may be trying to figure out where God wants you to focus your energies and gifts, and we will be praying for clarity right along with you.  You are quiet, a thinker who surprises us with your observations and insights at times.  We pray that your faith in God is what guides your decisions and pursuits.  We pray that the temptations that you face in your daily life will not overtake you, that you will be strong in your convictions and do what is right.  I hope you still love music and are able to express yourself through whatever instrument(s) you have learned.  I also hope you still have your crazy sense of humor and that you have fun, enjoying these years of ‘freedom’ before the real world calls.  Be kind, be compassionate and love those God places in your path well.  And don’t forget to call your mama…she misses you.  J

Sam, my boy…you’re 17 and in your Junior year of High School.  You’ve probably become the ‘go-to driver’, as your older siblings are gone and you and your sister need to go places, and well, your mom is weary after being a taxi-driver for the past twenty-four years.  J  Samuel, you are such a sensitive boy.  You recognize hurts in others and seek to comfort them.  Your dad has always called you ‘Pastor Sam’ as his nickname for you.  We don’t know if God has shepherding a flock in your future, but we pray that you are open to using this gift in whatever way He wants you to.  You are bright and you love to learn.  Soak up all the knowledge you can, and don’t be afraid to take chances.   Love God, love people, and enjoy being the oldest kid at home for a while. 

Tessa Beth.  Fifteen.  *sigh*  The baby of the family, yet not a baby anymore.  Your first year of high school may be a little scary, but I’m confident we don’t need to draw hearts on your hand before you get on the bus anymore to remind you that I love you throughout the day.  I pray that this year finds you learning more about yourself and the gifts God has given you.  There will be so many opportunities to try new things this year, and I hope you continue to be brave and push yourself beyond what might be comfortable for you.  Please keep singing.  Your voice is precious, and since you were just a little thing, you’ve been using it to sing to Jesus (that and “Let It Go” in 2014…over.and.over).  J  We look forward to seeing you continue to grow and mature over these next few years of high school.  And I promise to try not to cry every time we experience another ‘last’ with you. 


And You.  My love.  Thank you for not giving up on me when I was ready to give up on myself.  The years the locusts stole from us have been redeemed in some beautiful ways.  I continue to be amazed that you chose me.  You are a constant steadying hand in my life and I love the way you love me and continue to point me to Jesus in the way you live your life.  It’s been a wild (and loud!) ride with the five God entrusted to us.  We are down to two at home, and I probably still worry that we are messing it up.  You’ve been the best Dad to our kids and I appreciate your gentleness and patience with them.  Thanks for working hard to provide for us, and for the sacrifices you’ve made to do so.  It does not go unnoticed by me.  I don’t anticipate we’ll have much extra money in the near future, as we still have two more to put through college and grandchildren (hopefully) in the not-too-distant future.  Forgive the credit card bills when that first one comes…I’m sorry. Those tiny little clothes are still hard for me to pass by.  J 


Check back next week for my next Tuesday Grace Letter.  The next assignment:  Next weeks Grace Letter will be a love and gratitude letter to someone who has made a difference in your story. A letter of thanks to someone from your past that has changed your tomorrows. Someone who has loved you well and taught you about life. Write them a letter of love and grace.

Be sure to click the link below to be connected to Kara's post and to read other entries.