Holocaust Remembrance Day / why we remember

My twin daughters are 11-years-old (how quickly the time passes!) and one of them has recently become interested in reading books on the Holocaust. The protective mom side of me was hesitant at first because … wow … what a horrific era of modern-day world history. I wanted to shield her from that. And certainly, just a disclaimer: I am previewing the books she’s choosing in this genre so as to be able talk about them with her and to ensure she isn’t stumbling into subjects that are too mature for her. And yet. I’m also convicted that I cannot protect either of my daughters from the reality of our broken world, and nor do I want to keep them from learning about periods of history that illustrate this reality very clearly. We live in a broken world desperately in need of a Redeemer who will return one day to make All.Things.New. He came to give new hearts to those who look to Him in faith, and throughout human history, we the redeemed are called to work out our personal redemption from sin in the relationships, families, and communities in which our God places us. On today – Holocaust Remembrance Day – I think part of my redemption includes a purposeful remembrance. In meditating on that and why, I penned the words of this poem. I offer it as an invitation, not a condemnation. An invitation to remember and why we must remember, not just the Holocaust, but all the areas in our world today desperate for the justice we the redeemed are to bring through the power of our risen King Jesus.

Gifts, Consumerism, & Advent: Christmas 2021

An exasperated mom who was tired of hearing the incessant “asks” for more and last-minute Christmas list additions sternly warned her tween-aged kids: “No more asking for anything until after Christmas.” And then she became quite convicted, realizing that what she is trying to teach her children is what her own heart struggles with the most.

I rush, and I rush, and I rush, to get the perfect gift for all the people. The family I love and the teachers who’ve poured so much into our family, and maybe we should get a little something for our mail carrier too? I find that my list grows longer the further into December we get, not only the list of gift items that my kids say they “Really Really REALLY” want this year, but also the list of those I’m buying gifts for, and, if I’m honest, the gifts that I hope to be given, too.

There’s something beautiful about the gift-giving at Christmas. I was talking to my daughters (who, to their credit, have been reigning in their “I wants” since the mini-lecture I gave them) about the best gift that they’ve ever received. One of them piped up, “It’s Jesus, of course!” It is because the world received The Best Gift we could ever have, and The Only Gift we ever needed, and The Gift we could never afford or earn or attain, that we celebrate the season of Christ’s coming through gift-giving.

But when does all the gift-giving, and the accompanying gift-buying, become a thinly veiled excuse for more, more, more that consumes me in the way consumerism always does? In consuming things I become a magnet for all the marketing, the Cyber Monday, and the Black Friday, and the last-minute-free-shipping, and the Kohl’s cash, and all.the.things. I become obsessive about finding the right gift, or the best gift, or the most thoughtful gift, and I can make all the gift-giving all about me.

Advent stops me in my tracks. True Advent, which is a liturgical season set aside in the church calendar specifically to prepare our hearts in anticipation of the celebration of the feast of Christmas, is something that so easily passes me by. But God is gracious, and I found a book that’s helped our family re-focus, because it’s helping me focus on the waiting and the longing that God’s people experienced for centuries between the Garden and the Manger. This anticipation and hope is parallel to us who live after the time of Christ’s birth, life, death, and resurrection, and before He returns to restore all things in glory. It’s the theological concept of “already and not yet” – the looking back and remembering what God’s already done in redemptive history, and the present-day reality that we don’t yet experience the world as fully redeemed. Scripture is woven through the pages of this devotional, called Shadow and Light by Tsh Oxenreider: a short daily reading, a contemplative question, a song to listen to and art to reflect on. God is using this book to remind me to REST. To BE.

And God also used a dear friend’s good question in early December, “What can you take off your plate?” She was addressing a group of us on a Marco Polo … and how it struck me as I was in the very middle of a very busy – and fun! – weekend where I was racing from one event and to-do item to the next. I didn’t have an immediate answer, but it was the kind of question that stayed with me, the Spirit bringing it to mind at various points as I evaluated my days and my lists. I began asking, “What don’t I need to do/buy/attend?”

I don’t know what that answer is for you. It won’t be the same as it is for me, but it’s worth asking.

Instead of chasing the answer to, “What more do I need to do or buy to be ready for Christmas?”, I’m seeking to consider what I don’t need to do or buy so that I can be more peacefully present with the family, friends, and church community I’ll gather with in these next days.

-Heather Nelson / hidden glory / heatherdavisnelson.com

transitions

Photo credit: Country Living

It’s September, and change is in the air. The leaves haven’t yet begun turning, but there is a crisp coolness that invites their transformation in the coming months. School started for my daughters and my newly minted Ph.D. husband who’s now a dean at a seminary. In my counseling practice, summer clients brought their sessions to a close, and there is a new influx of fall clients.

Personally, I find September to be a good time to set new goals for health and spiritual practice. I want to read the Bible daily, journal, eat more healthily, exercise more regularly, and make time to be present with the people I love. There’s something about the pages of a new planner that invite me into a season of new beginnings. (And I love new beginnings. I usually take the opportunity for them a few times a year – January, of course, as well as my birthday, that falls in June, and September, the beginning of the school year.)

And then there are the unexpected transitions. My parents sold their home recently, and, along with my two brothers and their wives, we enjoyed reminiscing over the memories that these four walls held for 27 years of our family history. It’s the only home the grandkids (11!) have ever known for Gigi & Pops. All of us adult kids with our families have spent at least a few months living there when in transition from one home or place to another. There are stories of pranks, heartaches, joy-filled celebrations, family pets, laughter-saturated dinners around the table, tear-drenched heartbreaks, backyard adventures (a mountain biking course that caused more than a few injuries), the infamous front porch swing with Mom’s not-so-subtle interruptions, parties hosted, more than your average number of driveway collisions, and heartfelt prayers through both the joys and sorrows of our family’s life. To say there is an accompanying flood of emotions for each of us would be an understatement. Yet as Ecclesiastes reminds me, there is a time and season for everything. And just as surely as there was a time for making this home our own – when I was just starting high school and my brothers were still in middle and elementary school – this is the time for saying farewell to this home. So there have been many days of boxes (and memories) packed over the last several weeks. There has been the assurance that the memories aren’t sold along with the house – those are always ours to keep – and the happiness in knowing that a new family will get to begin making their own memories in that beloved home.

This fall is also my 20th college reunion, which I find just about impossible to believe. It can seem like only yesterday that I was a recent college graduate. Yet I remember being a senior in college, and some 20th-year-reunion-friends coming by our campus house to walk through and reminisce. We felt like they were so old. Now to think that will be us??

Another milestone recently celebrated is 15 years of marriage. Again, it feels like yesterday that I said “I do” as a 20-something young bride to a 20-something handsome young groom. We knew nothing of the adventure, challenge, and joy that marriage would bring us. We knew God, and that He was faithful, and it is to Him we have clung through the hardest times and the best of this past decade and a half. A quote I love was from a sermon by Reverend John Leonard during our formative few years at Cresheim Valley Church: “When you say ‘I do,’ God says, ‘I will.'” That truth has been an anchor for us through some stormy seasons, both storms without and storms within.

Our beloved twin daughters passed their milestone of 10 last September, and they’re days away from turning 11. Their birthday is always a time of remembering God’s faithfulness and protection, from the anxiety-ridden 10 weeks of bed rest to their premature delivery at 35 weeks and a week-long stay in the Children’s Hospital when they were but days old. To think that they are now strong, healthy, growing girls entering their “tween” years is truly a testament to God’s sustaining faithfulness in their lives and ours. We know we will be clinging to God’s grace in new ways over the next several years! And it is an amazing privilege to be parents of these two creative, smart, funny, strong and tenderhearted girls.

And then I zoom out and think of the transitions our country and world is facing. Covid-19 is spiking again, and we are all weary of fighting this battle. We are all doing our best, the best we know how. Our healthcare system is overwhelmed, and doctors like my brother are overworked and exhausted, yet carrying on in their faithful care of the patients entrusted to them. Troops withdrew from Afghanistan, and before they were fully out, the Taliban took over. It’s heartbreaking, especially considering all of the families who gave beloved sons, daughters, husbands, wives, brothers, sisters, and parents to this years-long battle. I think we all have the question, “How long, O Lord?”

And so in this season of transitions, both big and small, welcomed and dreaded, hope-filled and grief-laced, I find myself forced to anchor into the One who is Unchanging. The One who knows there is a time and season for “everything under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 3)- and whose presence is the only unchanging constant through all of life’s transitions.

fall in the time of coronavirus

Fall. I think of apples ripening, bright orange pumpkins on thresholds, the aroma of a pumpkin spice candle (and a latte to match), and back to school. A new rhythm – a new start. But this year? It’s a bit different. My 4th grade twin daughters are returning to school one day a week – the other four will be e-learning. I am grateful for this one day of school. They’ll have a teacher to student ratio of 5:1. That’s pretty amazing! But the other four days? We’re surviving.

I’m trying to focus on the positive – that this comes at the best time for our family, since my husband is working from home on his Ph.D. (anticipated completion date of spring 2021), and I am working part-time at 20 hours/week. I am grateful for one day of in-school instruction, because this will provide some semblance of “normal” for my daughters in terms of school and learning. And yet.

We still don masks for any errand. We are masked at church every Sunday. (And this is necessary – a practical way to care for the vulnerable among us.) I find myself settling into our current state of things as “the new normal.” And I guess that’s good? But I want more.

I want to go back to the days pre-virus, when school was a given and mask-wearing was for hospital surgical suites. When social gathering in groups wasn’t something to which I gave a second thought. When “Zoom” was only for the rare occasions of connecting cross-globally.

So what will I do with all of this? I seek to be grateful and to be satisfied and to make the best of uncertain (unwanted) times. I mourn the days pre-coronavirus that I didn’t realize would be so rare. And I seek to forge ahead in this “new normal.” Not to put my dreams or prayers or hopes on hold. Part of this is why I’m launching an endeavor I’ve been thinking about for a long time – life coaching. I think there are others, like me, who are tired of waiting for the coronavirus to pass before taking hold of dreams and goals in life. Maybe you need a nudge to pursue your dreams – to fulfill who you know you were meant to be. I would love to come alongside you and help you. To help you give words to where you are, to dream about where you want to be, and to assist you in getting there. Interested in learning more? Click here.

Know that I am grateful for you, my readers who continue to follow me – faltering and infrequent though these posts may be. We are in this together, and it gives me great joy to know that maybe my words will help give voice to an experience you have – that we can connect in this way. I’d love to hear from you. What do you miss about pre-coronavirus days? What are you grateful for in these present days?

Coronavirus: The Lenten fast we did not choose

I attended our church’s Ash Wednesday service with hardly a second thought, going forward to be marked with ashes of repentance to signal the beginning of the 40-day Lenten season ending with Easter Sunday. I never imagined that would be one of the last public worship services I would attend during Lent.

I don’t think any of us would have chosen the fast we are currently practicing. Social distancing, which is a nice way of saying “forced isolation.” No parties or gatherings or dinners out or even in-person Sunday worship services. Is this how I imagined Lent?

In a word, no, never, not at all.

We are all living through a time none of us could have foreseen. We’re balancing working at home with homeschooling without any social outlets. We’ve seen the inside of our four walls much more than ever before, and we have been forced to be limited to in-person social contact within our homes and workplaces (if deemed “essential”). What will it be like when this unchosen fast is broken? What kind of grand dinner parties and back-to-school celebrations will be held? What will it be like to return to worship at our places of worship, side-by-side with the physical manifestation of the Body of Christ? To receive the elements of communion again in the Lord’s Supper? To witness a baptism? To sing with a building full of people?

I think I’m saving my true Easter celebration for then. (Oh, that it were *only* 40 days of this unchosen fast!) I think that will speak of resurrection, of life after death, more than our live-streamed service this Sunday – if I can say that without being sacrilegious. Don’t get me wrong – I am grateful for technology that makes live-streaming Sunday worship possible, and “virtual” small group meetings and friend chats. But I know I’m not alone in saying that virtual is no substitute for in-person.

How will we emerge from this fast together? I hope we will be people who cannot help but cherish our social gatherings more – who stop putting off inviting the friends for dinner and holding the “just because” party. People who will never take a coffee date or lunch meeting for granted. People who will value connection in physical spaces more than we ever did before, when we couldn’t help but take it for granted and assume that “lunch out” and “dinner dates” would always be available.

I hope we are a people who will be more appreciative of those on the frontlines right now. The delivery workers, the grocers, the nurses and doctors and healthcare workers, the teachers (oh, the teachers! let’s all vote for HUGE raises for them!), the USPS deliverers. Let us make this imposed social fast one that yields good fruit in the days when the fasting ends. For it will end one day. Coronavirus will not have the last word. No, it will not, and we will emerge stronger, more connected, more grateful. Resurrection people who cherish life after death in every sense of the word.

Featured Radio Interview

I recently had the privilege of joining Danny Yamashiro on “The Good Life Hawaii” radio program for an interview. If you’re interested in hearing it, click here. undefined

It was a wonderful opportunity to speak about Unashamed and to connect with a brother in Christ who has an incredible miracle story of salvation, both physically and spiritually. He is a colleague of my husband’s in their Ph.D. program at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (TEDS) in Chicago, and we had the delight of meeting him when he passed through town a few months ago.

I hope you will enjoy “meeting” Danny as much as I enjoyed talking with him!

why the church needs to discuss domestic abuse

At church last Sunday, I was riveted by the guest pastor’s powerful message about the importance of prayer. I wasn’t drawn to it necessarily because of the message, but because of the style. Rarely one to hide my honest opinion, I told my friends afterwards, “I felt like I experienced emotional whiplash.” He had us laughing one moment, and then seriously considering God’s exhortations the next. I wasn’t sure that I really liked it. But then at the very end, he shared the most important part – his story of experiencing extreme domestic abuse as a newlywed husband in the deep South. He shared in the last 5 minutes what I wish he had started with: his story of survival and God meeting him and his wife and healing their family as he sought the Lord on his knees in desperation. Why didn’t he start here? I don’t know. But I’m guessing shame might have something to do with it, added with the uncertain reception of the congregation. Did he hesitate to share because we don’t really talk about domestic abuse at church? And especially not a husband’s experience of domestic abuse?

I cannot be too quick to judge him, for I share the same hesitancy to speak of the dark parts of my own story, and to enter into the dark parts of yours. I would rather wear “Pollyanna” glasses than see the darkness of abusive behavior indicated by unexplained bruises and unhealthy fear of a spouse.

Unbeknownst to most of you, my loyal followers and readers, I wrote a mini-book on domestic abuse that released in the fall of 2019. Why am I only now sharing about it in this space? Honestly, I wasn’t sure how it would be received. And I wasn’t sure I wanted to be part of the dialogue that I hope will be started by this small book. I was also going through a difficult season of depression, with accompanying anxiety and self-doubt. And it’s a heavy topic. I wish there wasn’t data to support the need for this book. But what I find difficult to write about pales in comparison to what others are living through painful day after never-ending night.

So, without further ado, and in a very belated way, I announce to you the release of my second book. As before, I would be honored for you to read it, review it, and share feedback with me. It is available via e-book, or in packs of 5.

A few quotes from book are below – and if you can relate in any way, please get help now. Don’t wait to read my book, but get to a safe place now, especially if there are children involved. {The National Domestic Violence Hotline is 1-800-799-7233; their website linked here.}

Usually victims of abuse feel powerless. That’s a typical response from someone who feels stuck in an abusive cycle. … Domestic violence tarnishes the glory and beauty of both humanity and marriage. … Take comfort in knowing that God sees the way you have been afflicted through domestic abuse, and that he hears your cries to him about it. [excerpted from Domestic Abuse: Help for Victims (New Growth Press: 2019)]

how’s your January going?

It’s the last day of the month, a month of new. Resolutions that fuel the libraries and gyms and health-food aisles of the grocery store. Resolutions that promise Life and that *this* will be the change, and *this year* will be the one when I’m that best version of myself, and change the world and my life and my waistline and my soul. And every year, I am right there in the mix of the resolutions, the promises to myself and to God and to my journal pages that I will be more, and better. I love the promise inherent in a new year, and I’ve written about that before.

But what about all of the unexpected hurdles and broken dreams that are going to be part of this year, too? Our pastor said that no one ever makes suffering part of the “resolution/goals” for the new year, and he wisely warned that suffering will be part of this year, even this new decade full of promises and clear vision. And already, this has been true. There are two young mom-friends battling cancer. My daughter got a concussion (!), which scared me to death. Other friends and family are carrying heavy burdens, and I hurt with them and want to take the burdens away. I’m recovering from a bout of severe depression, crawling back into the light of hope, but it’s not been easy.

Yet still, I want to think that my January resolutions can save me, can help re-create me. And they can’t. A resolution alone isn’t enough. So when I ask, how’s your January going? I am actually wanting to offer hope, that no matter how it’s going or how it went, that every day can be new because of new mercies. That’s the promise smack dab in the middle of the saddest book of the Bible – that mercies are new every morning, not just every January. So take hope, my friends, that whatever you are carrying, whatever resolutions you’ve failed, whatever “old” has crept into this “new year/new decade/new you,” that there are mercies that are still new every morning. Find real hope and real life in these promises:

Yet I still dare to hope when I remember this:

The faithful love of the Lord never ends! His mercies never case.

Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each morning. …

The Lord is good to those who depend on him, to those who search for him. …

For no one is abandoned by the Lord forever. Though he brings grief, he also shows compassion, because of the greatness of his unfailing love.

Lamentations 3:21-23, 25, 31-32 – New Living Translation

for the grieving at Christmas

I still remember the empty ache the first Christmas we spent without my grandpa, “Papa,” we called him. His recliner stood in the corner like a memorial. Laughter felt forced. I kept waiting for him to appear in all of his jovial grandfatherly-Father-Christmas fun. He loved to wear his new clothes with the tags still on them, as a way of being silly and funny. He would read the story of Christ’s birth from Luke’s account in his booming, Southern Baptist voice. He had a larger-than-life personality, yet a down-to-earth way about him. I learned only after his death how well known of a politician he had been. For me, he was always a grandfather who paid attention; who loved me; who was the life and heart of every gathering. And his absence was glaring that first Christmas after his death.

It’s been over 25 years, and I can still grow sentimental and sad to think of Christmas “before” and Christmas “after.”

I think about others I’ve lost since then, and there is always that grief that gives Christmas a blue tinge, as Elvis crooned so well. Like Beverlee, who hosted grand holiday parties with her beloved Collier for church members and neighbors in their suburban Philadelphia home. And childhood friend and next-door neighbor, Kristen, who died long before we had the chance to have joy-filled Christmas holiday reunions like we’d always thought we would. I remember close friends and family members who are grieving afresh this Christmas – a sister who died, a father who passed away, a mom whose death came too soon, miscarriages and lost hopes and loves.

And in the grief – both mine and the grief I feel with friends – I can find myself fearful of who may not be around the table next year. That grief steals the joy of the present. Yet Christmas and grief can co-exist, can’t they?

For you, and for me, who are the grieving at Christmas … I write to say you aren’t alone. I write to remind myself that I’m not alone either. Sadness is part of living. But I write to say that I don’t want it to take the joy of Life away this Christmas. I write to say that grief can be deeply comforted by the Truth of Christmas: Emmanuel, God with us. I don’t mean this to be trite … it is a truth I am fighting for every day in my own heart. Take comfort in the words of this melancholy, yet hopeful hymn:

{photo credit: little things studio}

On my bookshelf: June 2019

It’s been awhile since I last shared an “on my bookshelf,” so with summer officially here, and my bookshelf overflowing with new books, it’s time for a new post in this series. In no particular order, here they are:

  1. “A Gracelaced Journal” by Ruth Chou Simons – It’s a journal interspersed with watercolor illustrations of Bible verses – the full version found in her beautiful devotional by the same name, “Gracelaced: Discovering Timeless Truths Through Seasons of the Heart.”
  2. Single-Column Journaling Bible (ESV) – A publication of Crossway (yes, I’m biased to promote books from my publisher!), I enjoy that this Bible has the feel of a book and has space in the margins for note-taking.
  3. “Parenting with Words of Grace” by William P. Smith – This is a new release, and the title itself draws me into what I hope God is helping me to become as a parent – one who has words of grace for my children. In addition, the author – better known as “Bill Smith” to my fellow early 2000’s graduates of Westminster Theological Seminary – was my professor who also mentored and supervised me in my first few years of counseling. We worked closely together to establish a counseling center at a local church. I observed his words of grace towards his own children many times over during those years of working together.
  4. “I Can’t Believe You Just Said That!” by Ginger Hubbard (formerly “Ginger Plowman”) – As a follow-up to her bestselling, “Don’t Make Me Count to Three!”, I look forward to practical instruction and gospel-centered encouragement as a mom seeking to guide my children into different ways of speaking to one another. And I don’t want to settle for simple behavior modification – where they change what they say just to please me – but I want to help them develop hearts from which overflow kind and gracious speech towards one another, us as their parents, and those around them.
  5. “Toys, Tears, and Shepherd’s Pie” by John S. Eberly, Sr., M.D. – This title drew me in when I saw it featured on the shelves of our local bookstore as a book by a local author. The subtitle, “A Father’s Thoughts on Parenting,” is also intriguing because I haven’t read a lot of parenting books from a father’s perspective, plus he is also a pediatrician. It’s organized by stages of your child’s life, and so far I’m finding it practical and encouraging.
  6. “Anxious for Nothing” by Max Lucado – A gift from my mom who knows how I struggle with anxiety from time to time, I am finding Lucado’s gentle, poetic words to be just what my heart needs. His style itself is soothing and the truth he points to is real – an anchor for my heart and mind.
  7. “Run” by Ann Patchett – This is my current novel of choice, mainly because I loved Ann Patchett’s nonfiction, and because it was available at our library and had a good cover. Ha … yes, you can choose a book by its cover …! I’m only a few pages in, but I’m enjoying this story so far.

More updates throughout the summer as I read and enjoy these books. And what’s on your bookshelf right now?

[Disclosure: The links above are affiliate links to Amazon, meaning that if you decide to purchase these books through the link, I will get a very small percentage of your purchase as a sort of “commission.”]