Friday, August 19, 2016

Friday Faves: the best of the web this week (IMO)

 Hi, Friend!

I'm back after an almost 4-month-long blogging break. In that time, I finished up my first year of seminary at Princeton Theological Seminary, drove across the country from New Jersey to California (where I'm now living), hosted a friend from the Netherlands for six weeks, started prepping Dova Academy (aka, we're homeschooling this year) and transferred to Fuller Seminary. Did I mention ministry work? It's been a big one, that's for sure!

There's been so much great stuff floating around online these days! Bible studies, videos from the Olympics, TED and TEDx talks from some amazing minds ... even workouts! But let's face it. All the good stuff tends to get overshadowed and drowned out by the negative junk.

So here's my weekly attempt to make the Interweb world a little bit better. As many Fridays as possible, I'll post a curated list of my favorite positive, encouraging, healthy, inspirational posts from around the web.

My hope and prayer is that with every image you see, video you watch or link you click, you feel a little better and/or you're inspired to move forward in some area of your life.

Without further adieu, here's this week's list:

This adorable woman got her groove back after yoga therapy. The picture is really worth 1,000 words, but click through to the article anyway. At 85 years old, Anna decided to give yoga a try and made significant progress in her quest to recover from severe scoliosis pain.

Photo credit: TipHero


My friend Michelle's new book, Hope Prevails: Insights from a Doctor's Personal Journey Through Depression is blowing up on Amazon. In it, she shares her depression story, from her unique perspective as a doctor-patient. It's one of the most unique books on the topic of mental health I've ever read - grounded in Scripture, practical advice and hope. She even includes playlists in case music therapy resonates with her readers. I highly recommend the book and her website!

Photo credit: Dr. Michelle Bengtson


Speaking of talented friends, check out my friend Jana's super sweet Etsy shop, Sweet to the Soul! I ordered a few of her hand-lettered wooden signs (pictured) and printable downloads for our apartment this week. I can't wait to hang them up! She also sells Bible journaling kits, journals, canvas and other unique products. I love that everything she comes up with is super high quality and Scripture-oriented.

Photo credit: Sweet to the Soul Shoppe 


One of my favorite cookbook authors and wellness advocates Rebecca Katz released her first video-based course and I am SO excited about it! Rebecca's cookbooks The Cancer Fighting Kitchen and The Healthy Mind Cookbook are stunning in how Rebecca combines taste and health in easy-to-create dishes. Whether you have cancer, care for someone with cancer or would just like to prevent a future diagnosis, you'll get a ton out of the content in The Cancer Fighting Kitchen Course

Photo credit: The Cancer Fighting Kitchen Course  


Psychology Junkie brought the www this gem of a post, with all you need to know to help any person you know through a stressful time, based on their Meyers-Briggs Type profile. My "type" is ENTJ and they totally nailed my stress profile. My Facebook friends and I agree that we all need t-shirts or necklaces with our profile types on them! Imagine how much easier that would make our lives :) If you don't know your profile, here's a free online test from Truity that I trust as fairly accurate compared to the in-depth (and expensive) tests I've taken in the past. You can also take a longer test for $29 from the same company, which is still a really good deal and totally worth the cost and time it takes the test. Getting to know your type allows you to get to know yourself (and how you relate to others) better. Valuable relational info! 

Photo credit: Psychology Junkie

And a final honorable mention...

Unfortunately, someone took the video down before I could get this list posted, but at one point there was a video of Michael Phelps swimming to Super Mario sounds! I totally get copyright, trademarked songs, and all that jazz, but why, oh why did they have to take that video down?!?! Can't we MP-SMB fans just have some fun, for crying out loud!?! So on that, I'll leave you with a new classic, the #PhelpsFace...

Photo credit:

I hope you enjoyed this first installment of "Friday Faves!" I'll be back next week with more fun from around the web.  

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Book review: Dead Wake by Erik Larson


I've been a big fan of Erik Larson ever since I read his best-seller Devil in the White City. I was living in Chicago at the time and I loved reading about a story from the city I was enjoying so much. Yes, it was a little creepy, but it was also history, so... I stuck with it and really enjoyed it! :)

I was really excited to see that he had a new book out, this time about the sinking of the Lusitania. 

The thing I love about all Erik's books is that he takes stories we might read about briefly in history books, researches them thoroughly and then writes about them. And his books read like novels. They're so hard to put down! 

This one is no exception! 

Highly recommend to anyone who likes reading history, or even mystery or suspense novels. Erik Larson's books read like fast-paced fiction. They're a ton of fun!

I received a copy of this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review. 

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Adonai Sal'i: God Our Rock


I waited patiently for the Lord,
and He turned to me and heard my cry for help.

He brought me up from a desolate pit,
out of the muddy clay,
and set my feet on a rock,
making my steps secure.

Psalm 40:1-2

Six weeks after my now 3-year-old was born, I suddenly lost all feeling on the left side of my body. From my head to my toes, I couldn't function. In the middle of a (much-needed) new mama shower, I just fell over, calling out for my husband to come pick me up and rush me to the emergency room.

The following days and weeks were a blur of medical tests and appointments with accented doctors (we lived in the Netherlands at the time). It was extremely scary and my mind kept jumping forward into a future of disability, illness and possibly not being around for my kids in the way I'd always pictured. 

During that time, I picked up my Bible and searched relentlessly through the book of Psalms. I wanted to know who God was to me, in that moment, in so much pain. Verse after verse after verse led me back to verses like these few I posted above. He reminded me of who He was - my healer, my strength, my security, my rock. My Adonai Sal'i.

I'm forever grateful that God brought me through that time, to firm diagnoses that have allowed my body to heal and to the amazing, gifted functional medicine healers He put in my path to guide me along my healing journey. Most importantly, I'm thankful for the opportunity to learn, through hardship, more about the identity of the God I know, love and serve. 

I'm super excited to share that I'm helping an amazing woman of God and Bible teacher, Wendy Blight, launch her new Bible study I Know His Name

I Know His Name is a Bible study for any woman who wants to move beyond simply knowing about God to really knowing God in a very personal way. Wendy teaches how the very names of God reveal His character and heart.
This study will help women:
  • Realize their infinite worth as they explore the nature of the God who created and formed them.
  • Live with bold assurance that their God is a personal God who sees them, hears them, and knows them by name.
  • Walk confidently in knowing both who they are and Whose they are.
  • Arm themselves with seven tools to pray more confidently and effectively in any situation or circumstance.
  • Transform their walk with Jesus as they discover how He fulfills the Old Testament names of God.
More detailed information about the I Know His Name Bible study book and DVD can be found here including a FREE 5-day devotional, book sample, and pre-order bonuses (the book and DVD launch on February 2 - don't miss out!)

I'd love to have you join me in this wonderful study - let's all learn more about the identity of God, so that we can walk boldly in the world and proclaim His name for all to hear!

Your turn! What name of God means most to you? I'd love to read your answer in the comments below.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

1st Semester Wrap-Up #ccgoestoseminary

I'm getting ready to start my 2nd semester of seminary next week. I've enjoyed my break (immensely...) and all my grades from my 1st semester came back in (way better than I thought, thank you Jesus, for that unexpected blessing), so I feel like I can finally recap it. Isn't that odd that I needed to wait until it was officially "done" before I could post this? It feels super weird. Totally understand if you want to click away.

Seriously, 2nd chance.

Ok, since you're still here, you might as well keep on reading...

Actually, back to weird. That's a good way to sum up my first semester - it felt weird.

It was discombobulating to go back to school after being out of the classroom for more than a decade. (yes, I've done graduate and certification work via "distance learning," so I can say with some degree of authority that it's not the same thing to do homework in your PJs from behind a computer screen)

It was uncanny how I both so strongly identified with my classmates and professors, while I also vehemently disagreed with them at the same time. (the diversity - of ages, backgrounds, races, genders, denominations - at this place is incredible)

It was strange to hear about lines of theological thought that I had no idea were out there. (don't believe me? Google "Jesus as corn mother." I'm sorry or you're welcome.)

It was extraordinary to have literally more than a million books on all things theology available to me at the library. (our school has the second largest collection behind the Vatican... or so they say on the tour.)

I'll step away from my thesaurus now - I'm sure you get the drift.

After a few weeks off to process the semester, I realize that seminary changed me. "Wrecked," is probably a better term to use, but in the best ways possible.

I gave up labels.

Good grief, I went into seminary wearing so many self-drawn labels. "Perfectionist," "type A," "straight-A," "politically independent," "smart," "leader," "evangelical....." I wore them proudly - like so many badges on a supermom sash. Like a flag I could wave with pride. Like they did something to get me a little closer to God. Like they mattered. Until. Until. Until I realized they didn't matter. Not to God, not to my professors, not to my classmates. Who all had their own labels, their own flags to wave, their own badges. That were as important to them as mine were to me.

As the class hours morphed into days that stretched into weeks, God started peeling away my labels. I got my lowest grades ever in my entire academic career on papers (including my unfortunate 7th grade year in which I decided I'd rather be cute than smart, so intentionally threw my grades...), my speech teacher told me basically that I'm a terrible public speaker (and did NOT seem to care that I regularly won public speaking competitions in college...) and I met and befriended theologically super-progressives, super-conservatives and everyone in between (and enjoyed our conversations immensely, learning it is possible to disagree without being disagreeable...).

At some point before finals, a now-close friend and I were talking about our shared experience in this area and we realized at the same point that we'd both become who we really are at seminary. Children of God, who deeply desire to pursue and love Him with our minds during this season, who need no other labels.

I stopped labeling others.

A few weeks into the semester, I realized that because I'd covered myself with labels, I automatically project them onto others. I wasn't super happy to realize that I make assumptions about other people all the time - I stereotype based on age, race, class, spirituality, you name it. I've done it. And I get the argument that "we do it because we're human." But I did it as a human and let the label get carried away.

It's not that anyone ever accused me of being judgmental - and I make a very concerted effort to welcome diversity into my life and constantly attempt to check myself against any prejudice toward anyone. And yet, I learned this semester that accepting my only label that matters - child of God - allows me to accept that as the only label that matters on anyone else as well.

I broke - and busted open.

This semester was crazy hard. My kids got sick (Lyme disease and chicken pox - including a 2nd round for one of my kiddos, which is technically impossible...), I threw my back out and had to spend the 2nd half of the semester standing in the backs of classrooms and taking midterms standing up. Add in a commute that can't figure out if it wants to be 25 minutes or an hour, a friend who needed to move in with us mid-semester, active ministry work with Read Pray Move, the emotional energy required to sort through and integrate (or work to not integrate) all the crazy different theology I was exposed to, and I was kind of an emotional basket case most of the time.

And it all broke me.

And busted me open.

I realized that the only way I was going to get through the semester was to fully and completely rely on God. Not just pay lip-service to that effect, but to really do it. The effort to work through the semester brought me to the realization that I've been super hypocritical. It's one thing to say I rely on God - when everything is going well and stress levels are low. It's quite another thing to run hard after a very inconvenient call on my life (going to seminary as a mom to two very young children, with an autoimmune disease and adrenal fatigue, and after 9 moves in 8 years, was not convenient....) and have to rely on His strength and energy completely.

As I continued to break and bust open, I felt a confidence and sense of calm that was new to me. I just knew that the adage is true - what God calls me to, He will bring me through. It's not just a cute saying on framed home decor or a desk plaque. It's the truth. It's my truth.

And I know a heck of a lot more of the other truths in His Word, now, too, thanks to all the book learning I got, in addition to all the character formation.

Class-by-class my favorite moments or lessons from my classrooms and books:

Intro to Old Testament: by far my biggest surprise of the semester - I loved this class in so many ways it deserves a separate blog post. Dr. Lapsley introduced me to theology of ecology in Genesis, Dr. Olsen always preached a good word, but make a particularly big impact in the way he prayed over his lectures and showed us how we can love God intensely and intentionally with our minds - that there is space for those of us who want both the emotional mountaintop experiences with God, as well as the daily rigorous studies that ground us. I was warned about this class - that hearing the theories about how the Bible was assembled might ruin my faith. Instead, they blew my mind. The fact that we even have a Bible is just so impressive - that it's made it through all the centuries, through so many crazy human situations to continue to speak to us and bless us today. Seriously - the book only exists by the grace of God. I love it more passionately than ever. My "preceptor" (aka small group discussion facilitator) introduced me to beauty of Biblical Hebrew and the power of the Shema. I've never ever ever considered taking "the language classes," and chose the seminary I did because they dropped the language requirement for my degree, but after a semester with Hamille, I can't wait to read the Bible in it's original languages and will probably also brush up on my Latin.

Early and Medieval Church History: I had so much fun with the readings in this class - we not only read about historical church figures like Augustine and Thomas Aquinas, we read what they actually wrote. And got to talk about it. Like every week. Insert nerdy squeal of delight here. It was so fun and I emerged from this class with a deep and sincere appreciation for the church. As modern Christians, we stand on the amazing shoulders of those who have gone before us - those who have dedicated their lives to studying the Bible, and protecting it, through wars, famines, plagues, political infighting, dark ages, enlightenments, reformations.... I'm so thankful for the "cloud of witnesses" and deeply grateful for the legacy the church fathers left for us. I'm also more mindful of legacy in general - and the one I want to leave for the generations that will come behind me.

Systematic theology: Loved the teacher as a person, couldn't wait to end the class. Systematic theology classes, from my understanding, are supposed to introduce you to theology from a high-level overview type level. This one was supposed to be team taught by two professors at opposite ends of the theology spectrum, which I think would have been a brilliant way to teach and learn - from multiple perspectives. But the more conservative of the two had a medical emergency and wasn't able to teach, so we got the other. While I appreciate the lines of thinking I was exposed to, and really did enjoy the readings (particularly Faith Seeking Understanding), we spent too much time solely looking at theology through the professor's chosen lens. Note: lots of folks in the class totally disagree with me and loved the class. I acknowledge and respect those opinions, as well as those of my professor and preceptor - both of whom worked hard to lead us through the class.

Liturgical Shape of Christian Life: I loved the perspectives and discussions in this class. I've grown up primarily in the American non-denominational church, and although we lived and went to church in the Netherlands for three years, I never really took the time to explore the more liturgical church traditions before this class. I've attended church services as several local "high" churches ("high" meaning they still practice many of the "bells and smells" rituals practiced by the more structured denominations). And, of course, I also learned that "denomination" = "tradition." This class helped me round out the dictionary of terms I carried around campus. In my non-denominational-ness, I learned that the Presbies (this seminary is Presbyterian) have a whole other language they use to talk about church stuff. I think I'm caught up now, but I was most definitely lost the first few weeks!

Speech: Ahhh, speech. It's so interesting to have a journalism degree, several public speaking awards tucked away in boxes and a corporate communications career that includes media training and get told that you're a terrible public speaker. To have your voice and diction torn apart, to hear that the warm corporate tone you've honed for more than a decade "needs improvement" and that you "need lots of time in serious practice." Um, what? This was by far the most jarring of all my classes, but I somehow squeaked out an A-, so there's that.... Although I have been spending a significant portion of my time this break reading up on public speaking and even signed up for a speaker coaching program on my own time. So I guess that's my version of doubling down and going all in to prepare for Speech II next semester.

Speaking of next semester, which, you know, starts next week, I'm taking...

Scripture and Food: and am GEEKING out about it. I don't even care what you think about it - I'll be out at the Farminary (yep, the seminary bought a farm and plans to use it to study the link between the Bible and agriculture).

Intro to the New Testament

Care of Selves, Care of Congregations

Grace and Trauma

Speech II

I'm so thankful for the opportunity God's given me to be here, in this place, and take these classes. I'm not sure what will unfold from here, or how this semester will continue to shape my walk with the Lord, but I can honestly say now that I'm looking forward to it.

Thanks to all of you who continue to read my posts, cover my journey in prayer and support this process in so many ways! I firmly believe it takes a village to raise both kids and seminarians. Without the support of so many, I wouldn't have made it this far.

I pray....

The Lord bless you and keep you;
The Lord make His face shine upon you, 
And be gracious to you;
The Lord lift up His countenance upon you,
And give you peace.
Numbers 6:24-26

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

5 Steps to a Gratitude-Filled Family: #RaisingGratefulKids BlogHop

My family and I have been on quite the 2016 adventure so far - and it's only mid-January! We're working to live lives of gratitude and overcome the sense of entitlement we've all seemed to pick up in the last few years.

Entitlement crept into our lives so easily. We've been financially blessed with the abilty to pretty much afford what we want - trips, big (and small) item purchases, new clothes for the kids, toys for the kids and the list goes on. We knew it was a problem, but when our 6 and 3-year-olds started pitching fits when they didn't get a toy every time we went to Target (because not getting one was the exception), we knew we had to make a change.

At the same time we were looking to make a change, change came looking for us, in the form of this gem of a book:

Raising Grateful Kids in an Entitled World, by Kristen Welch of We are THAT Family, started our family on a journey toward a more thankful mentality. 

The book is really really good - filled with lots of personal stories about how the author practices what she lays out in the book with her husband and three kids, as well as lots of Biblically-based advice on how we (the global Body of Christ) can start working toward what really matters - spreading the love of Jesus. 

Because the love of Jesus doesn't look like the love of self/stuff/status/success/possessions that we see out in our culture at large. The love of Jesus is self-sacrificing, compassionate, connecting and concerned with the other. 

The book offers so much great stuff (you really should read it) and it inspired us to take the following 5 steps toward gratitude and away from entitlement in 2016:

1. We decided birthdays this year will feature experience-related gifts. Our kids are so used to mountains of gifts at holidays and on birthdays and we've realized they no longer appreciate what they do receive. 
2. We're starting family dinner conversations focused on connecting those of us around the table to what went well each day.
3. We're going to nag our kids less and allow natural consequences for missed homework assignments, missed chores (the kids will be able to use the money they earn to buy toys if they choose), etc. The kids both now have bank accounts, with debit cards that we'll help them manage, and jobs around the house. If they successfully complete the jobs in a way that meets our standards (that are age-appropriately high or low), we'll transfer money to their account every other week. They'll need to save 10%, tithe 10% and the remaining 80% will be available for the kids to purchase what they want or save for the larger items on their wish lists. 
4. We're not going to purchase any non-needed items for the kids. We'll buy clothes they need, but only when they need each item. If they want a special Valentine's Day dress, or a new pair of boots that they don't absolutely need (that we'll cover), then they'll pay for what they want with their own money.
5. We're moving away from the concept of a child-centered home. As I read the book, I realized how much we've let the kids' wants and needs take over our lives. It's easy to do - we want the best for our kiddos! And there's so much more available to parents than ever before - enrichment classes, sports groups, camps, the list goes on. We run ourselves ragged making sure they're happy and primed for success in life. Ultimately, that teaches the kids that they're entitled to constant entertainment and that we revolve around them. Both are ugly traits in adults - and the book has helped us see that raising loving adults who shine for Jesus and lead well requires us to start taking steps in childhood to point them in the right direction - toward gratitude and away from entitlement.

So far, a few weeks into 2016, we're already seeing big results from our little gratitude experiment and I'll do my best to share updates as we move further into our year. 

In the meantime, I highly recommend the book. I'm so thankful to have had the opportunity to serve on the launch team for the book and get to preview a complimentary copy before it's official launch date in exchange for an honest review. I'd love to hear from you if you pick it up!

If you'd like to read more about the book, click on over to Twitter and search for #RaisingGratefulKids. And, if you'd like the PDF copy of the journal that goes with the book (for free!), click here

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Book review: The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning

Isn't it interesting how often we hear the word "grace" float around Christian communities, yet so few of us really fully grasp what that word actually means? Not in a seminary definition kind of way, but in a very real, tangible, practical way? Like when we're completely beaten up by life, messed up big time, and ready to quit everything? And then Jesus steps in and offers the comfort, support and guidance that is the true definition of the word.

A little over 25 years ago, Brennan Manning wrote the first release of The Ragamuffin Gospel and the book has sold more than a million copies since. My copy, that I read just out of college more than a decade ago has gone on a missions trip somewhere (I often send my books out with no expectation of return, but with prayers they reach the exact right hands at the exact right times to do God's work) and I was totally excited to see the book's publisher release this anniversary edition.

I expected to re-read the copy and have it feel a little dated. I was so wrong. The truths in this book ring as true today, as they did two and a half decades ago 

The truth about fellowship: 

"Through table fellowship Jesus rightly acted out His insight into Abba's indiscriminate love - a love that causes His sun to rise on bad men as well as good, and His rain to fall on honest and dishonest men alike (see Matthew 5:45). The inclusion of sinners in the community of salvation, symbolized in table fellowship, is the most dramatic expression of the ragamuffin gospel and the merciful love of the redeeming God." 
p. 47

The truth about knowledge: 

"Sheer scholarship alone cannot reveal to us the gospel of grace. We must never allow the authority of books, institutions, or leaders to replace the authority of knowing Jesus Christ personally and directly." 
p. 30

The truth about faith: 

"Evangelical faith is the antithesis of lukewarmness: it always means a profound dissatisfaction with our present state. In faith there is movement and development. Each day something is new. To be Christian, faith has to be new - that is, alive and growing. It cannot be static, finished, settled. When Scripture, prayer, worship, ministry become routine, they are dead." 
p. 153

I could go on and on, but I think you'd be better served, friend, by buying your own copy rather than continuing to read my quote posts! 

The language in the book is approachable and it reads like a conversation with a trusted mentor, as indeed the author was to many, including the Christian singer Rich Mullins, who struggled with alcoholism throughout much of his career. Side note: if you haven't seen it yet, the movie based on Rich's life is very well done. I don't tend to like much in the Christian movie genre (the acting is just usually not up to par!), but I really liked this one. 

Anyway, back to the book.

I highly recommend it to any person who is: 
Stuck in a bad habit rut
Avoiding the church because of past hurt
Living the consequences of past mistakes
Feeling stagnant in faith
Looking for the real Jesus

If you're perfectly comfortable with your faith, have no problems and haven't ever experienced conflict, you can skip The Ragamuffin Gospel. You don't need it! 

I received this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review. 

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Book review: "Safe House" by Joshua Straub, PhD

I tend to lean toward very practical baby shower gifts. I'm the person shopping from the registry to pick up all "the essentials" that nobody else considers a "real" gift. Burp cloths, bottle brushes, crib liners - the items often overlooked in favor of cute onesies and embroidered blankets. I consider all my choices "must haves" and hope my friends will come to appreciate them as the reality of having a new family member sets in.

I've never once considered giving a book as a baby shower gift. 

Until now.

"Safe House" is an amazing resource for parents, full of life-giving, Biblically-based and super-practical advice based on scientific research. The author draws not only from his own professional and personal experience, but also from medical and other research, to create a parenting guide unlike any I've read before. 

The book encourages readers to look to their own childhoods and parenting backgrounds to begin to understand how the parenting experience truly is generational - and guides parents who'd like to make changes through the process of creating a "safe house" for their own children.

Truly a must-read for any new parents, or parents with young children at home. Highly recommend. 

I received this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review.