Spring Reads – My classics kick, an amazing parenting book, and other game-changers

I’ve been on such a classics kick lately. My sister got me this beautiful complete works of Jane Austen set a couple years ago for my birthday, and when I saw this challenge back in January, I decided I owed it to Jane (and Katie) to have read all of her novels. I wanted to re-read Pride & Prejudice at the beginning of the year, but I didn’t quite get to it. I did, however, read Mansfield Park in March, and I am so glad I did. Here’s what I thought about it and a few other books I read lately:

Mansfield Park, by Jane Austen

I knew absolutely nothing about this book before I started it, and it took me a while to really get into it (partly, I suspect, because the language is such a departure from the many YA novels I read), but by the time I was finished I was so glad I read it. I don’t want to give too much away, but one of the main male characters becomes a clergyman, which causes strong reactions from two of the female characters who have feelings for him. What ensues is several conversations about the character requirements for clergyman, what their responsibilities are, and the role of a woman who marries such a man. As a pastor’s wife, this discussion, especially set against the literary wit and sweeping romance of an Austen novel, deeply resonated with with me. Pride and Prejudice will always be one of my favorite books, but Mansfield Park may have a shot at claiming a spot on that list, too.

Notes from a Blue Bike, Tsh Oxenrider

This book was what I bought with my birthday money. The chapters are short enough that I was usually able to fit one in with my Bible reading and my coffee in the morning before I started my day. And at that pace, I had a lot of time to think about the things Tsh ruminates on in this great book. I’m still giving a lot of thought to the choices we are making as a family, from what we eat, to how we educate our kids, to how I balance work and life. While there is no one right choice for every person in every situation for any of these things, I don’t want to do any of it by accident. I want to live my life, raise my kids, complete my work with purpose and intention.

Jesus Feminist, Sarah Bessey

Don’t let the title of this book put you off. I was a little nervous to read it because I emphatically do NOT consider myself a “feminist” in the way that most of the people I’ve known who call themselves that understand the label. But I do believe that men and women are both made in God’s image, and that God chooses to use and gift them both as he works to redeem the people he loves, which is primarily what this book is about. Honestly, if you’ve read the theology book God’s Women, Then & Now (written by two excellent female AG scholars), this book won’t cover much new ground, but it’s written in a much more personal, narrative style. An excellent read!

The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkein

This, too, was a little hard for me to get into (I have GOT to start reading more books for grown-ups!) but I’m glad I read it. Jason and I never made it to the second movie while it was in theaters, and now we have forgotten what the first one was even about, so I felt like this was a good primer for our upcoming movie marathon. I stayed away from this book when I was younger, because of the people I knew who read it and liked it (not exactly people with whom I usually saw eye-to-eye on books), but I wish I hadn’t been so prejudicial. It was really good, and I could totally see myself reading it aloud to the boys when they get a little bit older.

Surprised by MotherhoodLisa-Jo Baker

You love your kids. I know you do. But that doesn’t meant that being a mom is always easy. This book gives you permission to admit that sometimes being a mom is impossibly hard, even while it’s completely amazing and rewarding. I wish I could buy this for everyone I know, but since I can’t, please go out immediately and buy a copy of this great book for yourself or the mom in your life.

——-

So, that’s some of what I’ve been reading lately. You can always check out my whole list on Goodreads or Pinterest. Have you read anything good recently?

Why I’m wearing the same thing I wore last Easter (and it’s not a dress)

Easter Sunday

This is me last Easter. I wore jeans to church, and I did it on purpose. It was my first Easter as the pastor’s wife of the congregation we lead in Ozark.

I like dresses and skirts, don’t get me wrong. I wear them on a pretty regular basis on days that aren’t Sunday, and even sometimes to church. I also wear jeans to church a lot. Our church has a very casual dress style , mostly because that’s how my husband Jason likes to dress. I can count on my fingers the number of times I’ve seen him in a tie in the almost 8 years we’ve known each other, and they’ve all been very solemn occasions: weddings, funerals, ordinations, etc. But for the average Sundays, a button-down shirt and jeans is his idea of “dressed up.” And that’s okay with me. I’m not a big fan of dress codes, either, and while I like to dress up more than he does, I would probably bristle at having to be in a church where the pastor’s wife was expected to be in a dress and pantyhose every Sunday.

But Easter is its own thing, and I LOVE dressing up for Easter. It was always an occasion in our house growing up. We would go to the store and pick out dresses (or in the leaner years, fabric) and then wait anxiously for forever with that pretty dress hanging in the closet until FINALLY it was Easter Sunday, and we could put it on, complete with new tights, white shoes, and a few times, a hat. And back then, by the time Easter rolled around I usually legitimately needed a new dress – being a growing child and all.

But now that I’m an adult, I admit, I still like picking out a little something new for myself for Easter. One of my favorite dresses to this date is one I bought for Easter when Jason and I were newly married. And then there were two years in a row when I was pregnant on Easter, and finding a pretty maternity dress those two springs went a long way in boosting my attitude and ability to be at peace with my growing belly. Two years ago on Easter, I was nursing Garrett, and I wanted to be able to wear a dress really badly, but I didn’t have any that were nursing-friendly.

So then last year rolled around. I was planning (and excited) to wear a dress. I hadn’t even really thought about it all that much. I could, I wanted to, and so I was going to. But a few days before Easter, I began to feel the Holy Spirit stirring up something inside me about that choice.

Being a pastor’s wife is not for the faint of heart. A lot of people in that role assume some unnecessary pressure and let the weight of people’s expectations for them dictate their every decision, and I agree that this is not healthy. But at the same time, you can’t be in that role and not expect to have zero influence on people’s perceptions and expectations for the church.

People tend to wear their very best on Easter. As I toyed with the idea of wearing jeans on Easter Sunday, I was a little worried – would I be the only one? That’s when it hit me – Easter is also a Sunday when people who do not regularly attend church are most likely to set foot through your doors. And I knew in that moment that if someone visited our church in jeans on Easter, I most certainly didn’t want them to be the only one.

I remember getting ready on Easter morning last year, still a little self-conscious about my choice. I’m not completely above the superficial side of myself. But what’s funny is, almost a year later, I have no memory of whether anyone else was in jeans that morning. After all the mental debate last year, I ended up being totally fine with my decision to wear jeans.

So as I started planning things for Easter this year, I settled on jeans without even thinking about it. But the more I read and studied during the season of Lent, meditating on what it means to go without, to fast, and to deny oneself things that very well may be your right, as Jesus did, the more and more I came to this conclusion: I don’t need anything new to wear.

I’m not that 7 year old little girl who outgrew last year’s Easter dress anymore. The clothes I wore to our last Easter service still fit me, and by some miracle they have survived several rounds of closet purges in the last 12 months. So I’m not going to try to find anything different. This year, I am planning to wear the exact same thing I wore last year.

Now, if you buy a new dress to wear to church, do I think there’s anything wrong with that? Of course not. This is about thinking through my unique position in my own church, and what God is doing in me right now. I just want to leverage the little bit of influence I have to proclaim the message to anyone who walks through our doors that they can come exactly as they are to the foot of the cross. And I know my own tendency to focus on everything except what Easter is really about, and I want to leave as much room as possible in my mind and my heart for God to move and speak and resurrect as He chooses.

Because I don’t want to get something new for the outside at the expense of God doing something new inside me.

I hope you all have a great Easter, regardless of where you go and what you wear. And if you live in the Springfield metro area and don’t have anywhere to go on Easter, we would love for you to join us at Life360 Ozark!

Our church uses bad words

When I was in college, I took a job at a preschool so that I could save up enough money to study abroad for a semester. The kids were up to all kinds of antics every day, and I always left work with so many stories about my class that my friends got tired of hearing them. More than six years have passed since I left that job, and only a few fuzzy memories remain of my time there. But one day I will (hopefully) never forget, one of my sweet 4-year-old students came up to me, and said “Teacher, that girl said the s-word and the b-word.”

We worked with a lot of rough families, so it’s wasn’t beyond the realm of possibility that some of my students, young as they were, had been exposed to profanity. But curious of the context, I asked my little tattletale, “What did she say?”

The tattler’s response? “She said stupid and butt.

Inside, I was rolling on the floor with laughter at this sweet child’s innocence. But knowing she really did think those were bad words, I put on a straight face and encouraged her with very serious agreement that yes, those are words we should not use. 

Our church uses some bad words too, but just like that little girl, I’m not talking about the actual b-word or the s-word, or any of the rest of the four-letter verbiage that gets bleeped out of R-rated movies on TV. No, I’m talking about the words that seem to have developed a negative connotation in some church circles.

Religion.

Sermon.

Christian.

Even the word church itself.

The mention of religion is almost always followed with accusations of legalism and Pharisaical judgment. People say, “It’s not about religion; it’s about relationship.” And I understand what they are trying to get across: Christianity is different than other flawed world systems that attempt to reconcile the soul to God through a series of good works. Those of us who believe in the cross of Christ know that we can never be good enough to make up for the ways in which we’ve rebelled against God’s laws. We understand that it has to be God reaching down to reconcile us to himself through the blood of Jesus’ spotless sacrifice, rather than the other way around. 

I even understand why some people are reluctant to attach the term “Christian” to the way they live out their faith, because of the way that term has been abused by corrupt churches throughout the centuries. I get people calling themselves “Christ followers,” because in essence, being a Christian is absolutely about following Christ. 

And I know some people have been hurt by the church and want to portray a different picture of their gathering of believers to the world outside, by calling themselves a “faith community” or something along those lines.

Listen, language changes. I get that. English, especially, is one of the most rapidly-evolving languages on the planet. Words people used to use mean different things to us today. And many words we use today didn’t even exist 20 years ago. So I can understand why some people think it’s time to update the church’s vocabulary. 

But just trying to change the terminology isn’t going to get across the message that we are different than other religions or even the Christians or churches who have brought shame to the rest of us by their abuses of those words. Listen, people in cults don’t call them that, but that doesn’t fool anyone on the outside. They are known, and Jesus told us they would be, by their fruit. And so are we. If we want people to know that the bride of Christ is radically different that any other world religion, we must be different. We must allow the Spirit of God to permeate our lives, our homes, and our churches until people can’t help but notice the ways we defy their expectations. 

So if I invite you to join us for worship on Sunday, you will hear me refer to the people gathered there as “the church.” My husband (and I, sometimes) will preach a sermon. We will teach you about the religion we ascribe to, about what it means to live as a Christian in this time and place. 

And if those words offend you, I’m sorry. We’re simply calling it like we see it. If you visit our church and it’s not your cup of tea, we sincerely hope you find meaningful community with another group of believers. But please don’t write us off just because you don’t like the words we are using. Because it isn’t about our words anyway.

“When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power.” 1 Corinthians 2:1-5

Sometimes Life is Hard (& a giveaway)

Last night I opened my laptop to write a blog post. I typed the letter “I” and stared it for about ten minutes. Then I shut my laptop and watched the Big Bang Theory with Jason and went to bed. Sometimes I feel like I need to be on the other side of something difficult to write about it, so that I can wrap everything into a tidy lesson up with a Bible verse: this is what I went through, and this is what God taught me, and now I’m a better Christian, isn’t that lovely, tra la la. 

I couldn’t think of anything like that to write, because right now, I’m in the middle of dawn-to-dusk, messy, chaotic living. My heart is heavy and full, and I’ve completely run out of margin, mostly because of things that have been my own doing. So when we turned off the TV last night, I reached for my journal instead of my computer, and all these things that had been buried deep in my heart started coming out onto the paper, and welling up in my eyes and spilling down onto my pillowcase. 

I’m not even going to pretend that the stuff weighing me down is life-or-death kind of stuff. I have a friend who is going through a divorce. I have a friend whose 3-week-old baby had heart surgery two days ago. I have a friend whose husband’s deployment was just extended. Those are not the trials I’m facing. 

Yet, just as the tiniest newborn baby will make your arms tired if you hold her forever, even the smallest burdens grow heavy when you insist on carrying them all by yourself. So when I stuff another pair of plastic-bagged poopy underpants into my purse, burying them deep so no one will suspect just how much my almost 4-year-old still doesn’t have a handle on potty training, I stuff my embarrassment and vulnerability down even deeper, and add one more pound to the burden. One more brick to the stack that says you have to do this all by yourself. One more ounce of credibility to the lie that no one else has these kinds of problems. One more inch to the mental rut that sees small difficulties and draws the conclusion I’m not a good enough mom

It’s all just getting too heavy, too deep, too hard. So I’m dropping those bags at the door, recklessly enough that all my dirty laundry (both literal and figurative) might spill out for you to see. I’m laying my burdens down and saying out loud what we all know but never admit to each other: Mothering is hard, hard work.

It’s beautiful and rewarding, sure, but it’s also messy and painful and exhausting, even on the best of days. That is why it was such a boost to my spirits to get this book in the mail yesterday:

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Lisa-Jo says,

Sweet, exhausted, amazing, resilient, fearless, remarkable, run-down mom–this book is for you. No matter how you got from there to here, can I just take your precious face between my hands, look into your sleep-deprived eyes, and whisper, ‘You are much braver than you think?’ (Surprised by Motherhood, xv)

Those are words I needed to hear. And I bet you need to hear them, too.

I was blessed enough to receive this book as a gift. I’m only a few pages in, and it’s blessing and encouraging me so much I just have to pay it forward. So, sweet mamas, I am giving away a copy of this book.  Just leave a comment below. Tomorrow night, I’ll choose one person randomly, and you’ll get the book in the mail in a couple weeks. 

I am a writer

What does it mean to be a writer?

Does it have to mean that you write as a full-time job, that you make a living from your words enough to pay the bills and support your family? If so, then I am not now, and perhaps may never be a “writer.”

While I have, on occasion, made a few dollars from my writing, it is nowhere near approaching a full-time gig.

But what if “writer” were more like the term “gardener,” something which can apply as equally to professional work as it can a hobby into which you invest plenty of time just because you enjoy it?

That kind of writer I not only am currently, but maybe have always been. I remember shutting the door to my bedroom as a little girl and penning the starts of little stories. I wrote my first book at the age of 5. It was called “The lady walked.” (You basically just read the entire book, in case you’re interested.) And I was an avid diary-writer as a teenager.

Writing has always been something I have loved to do. But I have shied away from that title, that ominous word “writer,” because it felt too professional, too important, too much like I was trying to be something that I was afraid maybe I wasn’t.

But no more. Let it be known: I am a writer, whether I ever make a living doing this or not. 

This post is a part of Five Minute Friday, a weekly writing party over at Lisa Jo Baker’s place.

Confessions of a chronic book-finisher

I’m so jealous of my husband, Jason. When he doesn’t like a book he just puts it down, simple as that. He has absolutely no problem stopping in the middle of a book, if reading it is no longer proving a good use of his time.

It’s not so easy for me. Unfinished books I’m not enjoying sit on my nightstand, staring at me until I make it to the last page. I would break out in a nervous sweat if I had to go to a book club or Bible study not having read the material. My idea of “slacking off” during the hardest semester of my English degree was reading every other chapter of Oliver Twist and checking SparkNotes for information on the ones I missed. And with very few exceptions, I read every single word of the books my kids pick out for me to read to them. This, of course, makes it all that much more difficult for anyone else reading to them to skip words, sentences or pages of books the boys have heard more than once. (Sorry, babysitters!)

Why in the world it’s so hard for me to stop in the middle of a book, I’m not quite sure. Maybe it’s because I feel like my life is some sort of perpetual to-do list and once something is on it, I can’t ever really take it off until it’s completely finished. Maybe it’s a matter of pride, once I’ve added it to my “currently reading” list on Goodreads. But whatever the reason, it’s nearly impossible for me to give up on a book once I’ve started it, even if the book is complete garbage.

If I’ve started a book, I have to finish it. It’s just as simple as that. I can hardly stand not to. Last year, there were only two books I intentionally left unfinished, and it killed me to do even that. The fact that I remember exactly which books I didn’t finish last year tells me I haven’t completely let them go.

The last book I purposely did not finish was one I bought on Amazon because the teacher of an online writing seminar I attended wrote/recommended it. (The fact that she was using one of her own books as an example of stellar writing should have been a red flag.) It was a terrible book; I suffered through the first half. I really wanted to finish it, in large part because I paid for it. In retrospect, I probably could have earned back the cost of the book several times in the same amount of time I wasted reading it. The other reason I wanted to finish it was so I would know definitively that the entire thing was bad. As if I couldn’t say it was not a good book unless I’d read every word. But in the end, I gave the book a bad review anyway, because with everything else I manage to get all the way through without loving, being able to say “I couldn’t even finish it” is a serious indictment.

Honestly, I didn’t want to read another word of that terrible novel, I just felt like I should. So when I finally let myself off the hook from having to get to the end, I felt so much better. To that end, I’m developing a list of criteria to help alleviate some of that guilt and to help me better decided when I actually should finish a book, and when I can put it down if I don’t think it’s any good.

It’s still a work in progress, but here’s what I’ve come up with so far:

I have given the book a good shot.
This is subjective, of course, but I’m thinking maybe 100 pages?

No one else expected me to read the book.
If Jason asks me to read the book, or I’m reading it for a book club or some other obligation, I want to honor those commitments. But if I’ve only promised myself that I will read it? I can break that promise.

It’s not a classic.
I feel like some books are worth suffering through just to be able to say you read them, or because they’re important. But books that aren’t timeless? Will I even care in a few years whether or not I’ve read them? Probably not.

Those are really the only things that I can think of that make it important for me to read a book. And if the book meets none of those criteria, and I’m not enjoying it; it’s okay for me not to read the whole thing. Let me say that again, just for my own benefit: If I haven’t promised someone else I’ll read it, if it’s not an important book, if I have given it a fair shot, and I’m still not enjoying it, it is okay for me to stop reading it.

Maybe if I write that 100 times on a sheet of paper, I’ll actually be able to do it.

How about you? Is it easy for you to give up on a book you’ve already started? How do you decide when to stop reading something? 

Never a dull moment

Here are some of the recent searches from my Google history:

  • How to wash stuffed animals in the washing machine
  • How to remove nail polish from upholstery
  • Natural remedies for Toddler Constipation
  • How to remove playdoh stain from clothes
  • How to repair a torn book cover
  • What is the phone number for Poison Control?

How did parents survive before the internet? Even with answers to all of these questions at my fingertips, with a two-year-old and a three-year-old little boy, our house stays in a pretty perpetual state of chaos.

A couple of weeks ago, before Jason and I got up, they got all the red apples out of the crisper drawer and took a single bite out of each one. We had to call Poison Control because they drank half a bottle of (child-safety-capped) liquid Motrin. When I was baking recently, they secreted away the sprinkles and made quite a mess in their room and all over their faces. And while I was putting on makeup last week, Garrett drew all over his face with eyeliner. When I used one of my makeup removing wipes to get it off, he took that to mean the wipes were his, and I caught him in my room later that day, happily removing them from the package one at a time.

It’s easy to get frustrated with all these mishaps and messes, and I often do. Some days I feel like all I do is chase the boys around the house, putting out fires. But in moments of a little more clarity it helps me to remember a few things:

1. They are children

I don’t know why this is so easy to forget, but sometimes I expect them to reason and make responsible choices the same way I do. In fact, sometimes I think I expect more out of them than I expect from myself. I spill. I make mistakes. I break things. In fact, right now, the shirt I’m wearing has small spots where I dribbled coffee on it this morning and the phone that is sitting next to my computer has a cracked screen from when it fell out of my pocket in January.

When I’m getting particularly agitated about one of the boy’s antics, Jason often looks at me and says with a grin, “It’s like he’s a toddler.” And that reminds me: they are toddlers. If I were to lay down on the floor and kick and scream when something did not go my way, you would accuse me of being childish. Because on some level, we know that children can’t help responding that way when they experience strong emotions. Likewise, I should expect plenty of boundary-pushing, plenty of failure to resist their impulses, and plenty of mistakes as they learn.

2. We asked for this

Sometimes, when I’m cleaning up after a particularly bad “oops” or straining to control my voice when I say “no,” yet again, I sort of wish I had children who were more apt to be compliant, cautious, and easily deterred. But then I think of the men my boys were named after: Caleb, the warrior who refused to believe that victory was impossible with God on their side, even when everyone else cowered in fear, and Josiah, the zealous, law-abiding king who resisted the way of his fathers and did not rest until idols were abolished in Israel. These men were stubborn in holding to what they believed. They were brave in the face of massive obstacles, and dogged in their trust in the ways of the God of Israel.

When I think on those things, it’s easier to see the seeds of great men in my boys’ fierce independence, their initiative, and their determination. They can’t be men who will “hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught” (Titus 1:9) without some stubbornness in their makeup. They can’t be men who will do big things for God if they give up the second something gets difficult.

3. God can use them to change me

I thought that there was nothing like the crucible of marriage to reveal to me my own failings and flaws. That is, until I became a parent. I fail my kids daily. I lose my temper, I get impatient, I put my own needs before theirs. I see in my gut response to them just how desperately I need Jesus.

Every day I have a choice about how to respond. I can respond to them in my own strength, or I can cast myself on Jesus, being reminded of his grace towards me, and given the strength to extend that same grace to my children. It’s not easy; I’m still not perfect. But God is remaking me and refining me, and he often uses difficult days with my kids to do it. I’m so thankful for that.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go scrub some red nail polish out of my chair.