Joy in the dark.

Dark Autumn mornings beg me to smack the snooze button. At my dimly lit desk, coffee steaming into the quiet, I felt a pang of jealousy of as I read Acts 8: “When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him again, but went on his way rejoicing.” (Acts 8:39 NIV) I would like the Holy Spirit to physically relocate me, I thought to myself, which is exactly what happened to Phillip. (Zondervan)

There are many pandemic days burned into the permanent section of my memory. Days full of shock, tears, heartache and loss. Normalcy has fallen by the wayside, and it’s been hard to cope. We miss hugs from friends, seeing smiles in person, and sharing live laughter. 2020 has been a very hard year.

The generation currently navigating junior high has a skyrocketing suicide rate, and they now pile on the anxiety of quarantine. My daughters are in 7th and 5th grade.

The patch of sunflowers I planted in late September had a slim chance of surviving long enough to bloom. Yet today, I cut the first batch and brought them into the warm house. Miracles do happen, and life can bloom despite of the odds stacked against it. In the midst of heartbreak over what they haven’t been able to do this year, my daughters have chosen to remember where their strength comes from. My oldest will clunk up the stairs from the basement in her pointe shoes to show me what she has been working on. Her grades, even though she had been zoomed in for much of the first quarter, were straight A’s. Today, a photo gift she made for a friend arrived in the mail, and she wore a new outfit she bought with her allowance to zoom into school. As I write, I hear her laughing with friends on a group chat.

When I told my husband the buns were on the stove next to the crock pot this morning, my youngest daughter laughed at no less than ten of her own “bun” jokes. Everyday, she has us rolling in laughter, despite of these dark times. This girl, who tends not to communicate with the same word count her older sister does, shared with me on our ride to school today about her nightly conversations with God.

God could physically pick me up and move me. He could change our circumstances …make it easier …ease the pain of isolation… Jesus wept and prayed for God to change His circumstances, too. He was isolated and deserted as He was crucified, unjustly. He endured all of the pain of this world voluntarily because He trusted God’s will. So in moments of isolation …I choose to remember the source of my strength.

Jesus gives me the perspective to see my situation through the filter of hope, and the blessings He’s sweetly and faithfully embraced us with in 2020. The laughter, long boating days in the warm sun, lunch dates during the school day, late night talks, and time with my girls who will disappear back into their busy lives as soon as they resume. I’m not glad its happening, but I know where my strength comes from. Acknowledging personal hardship is important. Tears are healing and some anger is righteous! But I know beyond what I can see, feel, and plan for …God is always on the move …and He is always good.

Remember the verse at the top of this post, and the man who went away, rejoicing? Phillip shared the gospel of Jesus Christ with him, and he was baptized! His joy was a sign of new life, and evidence of the Holy Spirit. (Zondervan) 2020 has taught us not to hang our hope on our plans, routines, and goals. All of those things are good, but His plans are more than we can ask for or imagine. It may get worse before it gets better. We were never promised life would be easy. But, if we unplug from the manic media and choose to tap into our real source of strength, we can live joyfully even in crazy hard times. Dark times. Jesus links arms with us through it all.

(Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary of the New Testament. Copyright 2002.)

Picture Day

The windshield wipers squeaked and scraped across the windshield. Misting gray skies muted brilliant colors of the changing season. Wet blacktop swished in traffic, and dreariness attempted frame the day before it had barely begun. Slumped over, choppy breaths evidence of watery eyes, my passenger clutched a cuddly elephant. School picture day meant we would eventually frame 2020 and place it on the fireplace mantel. 

“What’s the matter?” I asked her. She simply shrugged and could not say. The cumulative effect of this year’s anxieties have worn her to the core. She feels beyond my reach, at times, a helpless feeling for a mom. This has been a year full of infinitely more things I cannot explain to her, definitively. Her eyes waver back and forth to me and we both wonder what tomorrow will bring and how we can possibly brace for what it will be like. I want so badly to tell her when this will all be over, that tomorrow won’t be worse, and we’ll all get through it …together. 

Under normal circumstances, parenthood illustrates our daily need for God. The author of Hebrews wrote, “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he said down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.”(Hebrews 1:3 NIV) The Greek Word for exact defines the instrument used for engraving or carving. 

Numbers, facts, and circumstances change daily in our lives. The author of Hebrews assures us exactly where Jesus is. Our Savior sits at the right hand of the Father. 

Unchanging truth comes from God alone. He knows the number of our days. Nothing changes it. God is the only One who can peer beyond what we see and experience in the present moment. His Truth, alone, is trustworthy and dependable. He is good, and makes good of all things. 

God is personal. Reframe the truth as such. His greatest expression of love for me was Jesus, who came to earth and died on the cross to save me from my sins …and through salvation in the Him the Holy Spirit lives in me and my soul lives eternally with Him. When our lives are built upon this Rock of truth and our faith is rooted in God’s love, we wade through the really hard things with Him.  

Why, then, is it still so hard for God’s Truth to make it past the lump in my throat today? I know Jesus sits at the right hand of the Father, fighting for me. Why do I feel so powerless, my prayers seemingly ignored? Because the truth about the world we live in can be pretty grim.

The world’s unfairness isn’t just a fleeting feeling, it’s a magnified fact of life on this sin-soaked earth. There is real evil in the world, intended upon stealing, killing, and destroying us. Our enemy lies. When we feel we are surrounded by unfairness and evil, lies and manipulation …it’s because we are! It’s really hard, and it can make us feel hopeless and helpless to stop it or make things right. Especially when our kids are hurting and there’s nothing we can do to fix or ease the pain. 

Perspective is our rescue. Knowing what is true allows us to see through a different perspective. One of wisdom, peace, hope and love. Jesus is the way we keep moving …because when we can stand anymore …He carries us. 

Letting go is the hardest task in parenting. We ache to see our kids go through pain we wish we could prevent and steer them around. Imagine how God feels about us, when we are in pain, mistreated, hurt, manipulated, and taken advantage of? We have limited power on this earth to set things right, but He is limitless. God, though we don’t understand His purposes or His timing, is in control. We may be manipulated by media, but God is in control. We may be taken advantage of by corrupt leaders, but God is in control. We may not get answers to our prayers in the way and timing we want …but He does hear us …and He will answer. 

The reality of my 2020 is- I don’t know what time I’ll pick my daughter up from school today. But, no matter if it’s normal pick up time and I have her favorite snack and cuddly source of comfort waiting for her in the passenger seat, or a hug and spirit that will share in her heartache and tears, we will turn on the wipers …drive through the cold misty rain …and go home together. And I’m thankful for that …for together.

“The Basic Bible Atlas, A Fascinating Guide to the Land of the Bible,” by John A. Beck

“The same God who created the entire world selected one specific part of it to play a key role in saving it,” wrote John Beck, author of “The Basic Bible Atlas, A Fascinating Guide to the Land of the Bible,” “The land of Canaan is the Lord’s chosen land.”

This book a must-have reference for those who study the Bible both personally and/or professionally. The maps are helpful and informative, and informational text allows readers to place Biblical events …and know a little bit more about why God chose these locations as the center of the Biblical history. This book has been carefully written so anyone seeking to understand more about Scripture will be able to comprehend and apply it.

This book, broken into two parts, begins with an “Introduction to Geography,” informing readers with an “Introduction to the Atlas” and an “Introduction to the Biblical World.” This section includes an explanation of the type of land and significance of the geography, seasons, culture and rainfall have as the backdrop of Biblical history. “No single picture captures the great geographical diversity of the promised land, a land that changes quickly and substantially over short distances,” Beck wrote. There are multiple maps of the same stretches of land, to help readers both textually and visually understand the setting of Biblical history better. 

The second part of the book, “Putting the Story in Its Place,” consists of ten chapters. Starting with “Creation, Fall, and Rescue Plan Stories,” and ending with “Church Stories,” each chapter tells the historical story of the Bible, alongside the visual maps allowing readers to have a better understanding of what happened, and where. “The geographical journey in Genesis begins in the garden of Eden, moves beyond the garden looking for a pathway back to paradise, and final settles in Canaan,” Beck explained, “the promised land becomes a character within the story of salvation whose fortunes will help us trace the ups and downs and the divine rescue plan.” 

I highly recommend this book to all who read Scripture daily. It’s an invaluable resource to help us all understand our faith better. 

Click here to purchase a copy of “The Basic Bible Atlas.”

(I was given a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.)

“Raising the Challenging Child, Minimize Meltdowns, Reduce Conflict, and Increase Cooperation,” by Karen Doyle Buckwalker, Debbie Reed, and Wendy Lyons Sunshine.

“Bad behavior is generally a cover-up for an uncomfortable emotion the child is feeling or a need they don’t know how to put into words or even recognize themselves.” 

-“Raising the Challenging Child, Minimize Meltdowns, Reduce Conflict, and Increase Cooperation,” by Karen Doyle Buckwalker, Debbie Reed, and Wendy Lyons Sunshine.

I chose to read “Raising the Challenging Child,” because I am raising a challenging child. I know what it feels like to experience the stares and the opinions of my parenting and my child. It can feel hurtful and hopeless, sometimes. I can find myself wishing for someone else’s “normal.” I’ve read countless parenting books, but this one is by far the most helpful. “Raising the Challenging Child” meets parents where they are at, in their practical lives, and gives them attainable tools and easy to read explanations from professional people. 

The book is broken up into three main sections: “Be a Leader,” “Dig Deeper,” and “Prepare for Success.” Each Chapter in every section ends with a helpful and easy to read and relate to chart with “Perhaps You’ve Done This …” and “Instead, Try This…” tips for parents. “As parents, we want to protect our children from hurtful comments,” the authors wrote, “but we have to hear the child’s own story (rather than discount or try to talk them out of their feelings) before we can help them accept themselves.” -“Raising the Challenging Child, Minimize Meltdowns, Reduce Conflict, and Increase Cooperation,” by Karen Doyle Buckwalker, Debbie Reed, and Wendy Lyons Sunshine.

In my opinion, the biggest take-away parents, caregivers, and other readers will take away from this book is how to be a better listener to our children. We often forget how important it is to simply be still and listen to them. The author’s provide amazingly helpful ways to defuse tense conversations and situations by asking questions. This book in no way condemns parents for making poor choices, but rather comes alongside them in all of the ways we wish to be better and do better for our children. 

Though an easy read, this book is not a quick read. It is packed full of great information, tips, and easy to understand stories to go along with each point. This will be a book that I keep for reference, and will refer to often. “When we make a mistake, a lot of us beat ourselves up, thinking, I should have done this and I should have done that,” the authors wrote, “But the more grace we can have for ourselves, the more grace we can have for our children. The more we can forgive ourselves, the more we can forgive our kids.”

Click here to purchase a copy of “Raising the Challenging Child.”

(I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.)

“Saints, Becoming More Than Christians,” by Addison Bevere.

“We were made for glory,” Addison Bevere wrote in“Saints, Becoming more than ‘Christians.’” Bevere has written a thought-provoking message, and convicting call to action. What does “we were made for glory” mean, and how do readers live their everyday lives with this goal in mind? These questions, and more, are answered in this amazing and inspired book about what it means to be a “Saint” …what it means to be a “Christian.” “There’s a crater in our being, an impression left by the breath of God,” Bevere wrote.

This book will challenge readers to redefine what Sainthood and Christianity mean to the everyday life of someone who chooses to follow Jesus. Bevere writes with wisdom, knowledge, and poetic insights, able to cut through the confusing messages steaming through our modern day media. “Tragically and ironically, the self-centered love of this world makes the self hopelessly small,” Bevere wrote. Every generation will take away incredible notes from this book. “Saints” will help readers decipher who they really are, and pull away from the false sense of self many of us naively, and sometimes even knowingly, embrace every day. 

Bevere’s honest and straightforward style of writing coupled with his poetic gift to connect sound doctrine to everyday life allows the message of “Saints” to stick. “Humility leads us into the expansive life because it keeps us from stopping at partial truths and leads us to whole truths,” Bevere wrote. Long after readers put this book down, the overarching message will remain. We live to bring glory to God. I highly recommend this book. Whether a Christian or not, it will clarify the terminology we use today when referring to faith, with solid truth and convicting witness. 

Click here to purchase a copy of “Saints.”https://amzn.to/2wufBSo

(I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for my review.)