Friday, September 25, 2015

#NotFineFriday: Help for the Hard

I just finished my 4th week at seminary. And it was hard. And costly. Emotionally, financially, physically.

For starters, I'm supposed to be here at this very moment:

A good friend of mine and I scheduled a trip to Napa before the semester started. I thought I'd skip class, we'd fly West and drink wine all weekend. What could go wrong?

Surprise, surprise, my professors were not aware of my plans and scheduled speaking assignments, test, quizzes, papers and initiator questions due in the two days I was scheduled to be gone.


Trip didn't happen.

The day before the first test of my rote memorization skills in a very (very very) long time, my 3-year-old decided to have all the freak-outs. She's been doing great all semester. No real issues with going to school for the first time, no big problems with schedule changes. Until this week.

My classes this week too seemed super depressing. All the content and discussion centered around the concept of "oppression." Women are oppressed, minorities are oppressed, indigenous peoples were and are oppressed, the Isrealites were oppressed in Egypt. Even white men are oppressed because they have a history of perpetuating oppression and now have to live with the guilt. (side note: I know that oppression is real. I know that it's happening and has happened. Not denying it's existence, just naming it as one of the factors this week that resulted in my need for help ... keep reading...)

Add in family health problems, marital spats, parenting challenges.

This post could go on. But I'm going to cut it off here so as not to you know, oppress you with my baggage.

Finally, I got to a point that I just couldn't handle all the "tough."

So what did I do?

First, I turned to the Bible for encouragement from verses like this one, from my friend Marie:

And I prayed. But, after a few days, I knew that the reading and praying weren't enough. I needed more.

So I turned to a counselor at school.

Because receiving Godly counsel in times of trouble is such a blessing.

The world (and sometimes our brothers and sisters in the Church) tell us that seeking counseling is something we should hide in shame. That we should sneak into and out of. That we should maybe tell those closest to us, but shouldn't share in public.

I don't accept that.

As Christians, we need to talk about counseling.

The proven benefits, from a secular medical perspective, are many:
- Talking with a therapist can help alleviate depression, phobias and addiction
- Counseling can help alleviate the symptoms of chronic diseases like autoimmune conditions, heart disease and diabetes
- Therapy can help resolve painful early life experiences, as well as assisting with healing adult relationships

At my counseling session this week, I was able to work through some of the overall stress I was feeling and developed a few strategies for how to cope with the multiple demands of ministry, publishing, parenting, marriage and seminarian work that will all be part of my life for the next three years.

As I left, I felt a huge weight lift from my shoulders and, as I walked across campus, I realized that counseling truly is a "good and perfect gift." One that I plan to receive as often as I need it and encourage others to receive as well.

If you have a similar story, I'd love it if you'd share a bit in the comments - or post your own link to the #NotFineFriday link-up! If we're going to remove the social stigma about mental health in our community, we need to get this conversation started and that can start with us :)

#NotFineFriday September

Welcome to the September leg of the #NotFineFriday Blog Tour! Our fourth month of this project, where we bring glory to God by sharing our weaknesses. My writer friends and I know that it's only by sharing our struggles, alongside the message of how God redeems these circumstances, that we can fully walk in the power of Christ in us (2 Corinthians 12:9).

You have a couple of options to join our conversation: 
  1. To be blessed by the posts, click the image links below. Feel free to add your comments to the posts and let the authors know you stopped by from #NotFineFriday!
  2. If you'd like to add your voice to our ongoing conversation, we'd love for you to add your own link below. Email me if you need some technical help. 
  3. If you don't have a blog of your own, I'd be more than happy to feature your story as a guest post. Email me if this option interests you. 
We're so thankful to have you here and pray our posts (and this tour!) bless you as they've blessed us in June, July and August

Wednesday, September 2, 2015


As of last night, I am officially a seminarian.

My orientation at PTS wrapped up with an opening convocation and classes started this morning. It's a little hard to write about this journey, to be honest. The words just don't seem to want to come.

How can I describe how it feels to sit at the feet of both the Cross and amazing human professors .... all at the same time?

What words can I use to accurately capture the deep and meaningful conversations I've already had with my peers .... before classes have even begun?

I call myself a writer. And yet, I have no words.

The irony isn't lost on me, but it does humble me.

Since I can't seem to find the phrases to describe the experience, I'll just touch briefly on how it feels.

It feels...
... incredible to know that I get to spend the next three years intentionally getting to know God on a deeper level.
... inspiring to realize I won't be alone in this process. I'll have 200+ new friends on this journey with me.
... intense to comprehend the sheer amount of work it's going to take to get to take the graduation walk in May 2018. (side note: massive party that day. You're invited. For realz.)

I'm going to do my best to journal-write about-share this experience with you, my dear friend. I know getting to go to seminary is a tremendous privilege and my heart aches for those of you whose hearts burn with the desire to go, but haven't yet received confirmation that God has this path for you. I was there in that place too, not so long ago and I know how it feels to sit and wait. So I will do what I can to pay this experience forward - by writing from time to time (even when the perfect words won't come), by posting my book lists and by sharing resources on Facebook and Instagram.

And the sharing starts. NOW :)

We started our studies this summer with just a bit of reading:

ESV Study Bible (the assignment was to read the Old Testament - but I went ahead and finished the whole Bible in a #Biblein90 challenge group - I was also supposed to read in the HCSB version, but I read that in my first #Biblein90 challenge last Fall, so decided to mix it up and read the ESV this summer)
A Knock At Midnight
The Pastor as Minor Poet
Pray Without Ceasing
Faith Seeking Understanding
Her Story 

It was a little tough to fit all the reading in - mostly because I majorly procrastinated and waited until the end of May to really get started! I finished though - the week before Orientation!

My goal going forward is to pick a "if you only have time to read one book, read this one" book each semester, but for summer reading, I have two picks because they compliment each other so nicely:

The Pastor as Minor Poet, written by PTS President Dr. M. Craig Barnes, "calls pastors to search for a deeper understanding of what they see - both in the text of Scripture and in the text of their parishioners' lives," according to the description on the back cover. But, I feel like this book is an amazing read for anyone currently in (or considering) active ministry ... and aren't we all? The book offers both deep spiritual insight into how we, as the body of Christ, can be more effective ministers to the people God puts in our lives, as well as practical advice on how to develop the minor poetry that allows us to present the "good news," the Gospel, in a way that others can easily understand as relevant to their lives. 

My three favorite quotes: 

"God has good self-esteem and can handle as much anger as we can dish out, as the psalmists apparently believed, but it's clear that nothing infuriates God more than being left out of the conversation." (p. 39, "Poetry for the Angry")

"God alone is whole and complete, lacking in nothing. So it only makes sense that those who have devoted their lives to talking about God would have at least a 'small matter' that is missing, imperfect, or habitually humbling. The purpose of this unwanted - but divine - gift is to nurture even more gravitas in the pastor's soul. Such gravity is strangely attractive to a society that has tried too long to lack nothing." (p. 52, "Gravitas")

"The contagious excitement of preachers, the thing that keeps them awake Saturday night with all of the anticipation of a child on the night before Christmas, is that they cannot wait for the gift of getting to proclaim what they have discovered. This is why the Gospel is called good news." (p. 115, "The Second Voice")

This book's subtitle is "Revitalizing Pastoral Care" and is also intended for pastors, current and future. And I'm sure it's a remarkable book for folks going into that line of work, but again, I found the insights touching and extremely relevant for anyone seeking a deeper prayer relationship with God. I just loved it and found myself reading and re-reading several chapters - something I rarely do. 

My favorite quotes: 

"Just as Scripture is the means by which God speaks to the church, so prayer is the means by which we respond. Through Scripture God draws near to us. Through prayer, we draw near to God." (p. 28, "Listening to God")

"Intercession focuses on God. Intercession does not worry about saying the right thing or about being eloquent or wise. It merely brings a request to God. It is not a conversation with the other about God but a conversation with God in the other's hearing. Intercession knows that 'prayer is not prayer if addressed to anyone but God.' It does not try to affect it's human listeners. The prayer itself is not an attempt to help, edify or instruct the other. Still less is it an opportunity for camouflaged preaching. It is a request for grace, not a tool of manipulation." (p. 122, "Prayers of Intercession")

"While God alone can save us from sin and death, we are called to be companions to one another in this life. Though our suffering cannot redeem others, as Christ's suffering does, we can accompany one another in love, offering the comfort that we ourselves have received. As members of Christ's body, we walk alongside one another, gladly bearing other's burdens and sharing our own. As mutual caregivers, we offer each other the word of forgiveness, witness one another's lament, intercede in prayer for each other, and offer our thanksgivings together for the blessings of this life." (p. 191, "Conclusion) 

By the way, narrowing down my "favorites" list for this one was hard. Seriously hard. I don't think I've marked, highlighted and overall destroyed a book like I did this one. Obviously, I highly recommend it. 

That was Summer, now onto Fall.

Here's the lineup: 

A More Profound Alleluia (not pictured, could only access the Kindle edition!) 
Plus a whole bunch more "e-reserve" articles that are literally too numerous to list - so you all will have to settle for the books for now! 

I won't post another big recap with my Fall reviews until after Christmas - when Finals are over and the holidays are behind us, but I will post my usual highlights and underlines, along with hashtags for each book over on Instagram. I'd love to connect with you over there too! 

I hope my book lists and reviews inspire you to take on some reading of your own - my prayer is that God will use these pics, quotes and imperfect reviews to light a spark of interest in your soul. A desire to get to know your Creator more intimately - through study of His eternal Word and the thoughts of the mere mortals who take it upon themselves to devote their lives to pursuing Him.