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.”]

Five Minute Friday: Rush

Five Minute Friday. Free-writing for five minutes on a given topic. Community link-up here – join us!

She texted me, “No rush!” And something inside me breathed again. How many times do I rush, rush, rush? Do I hurry, hurry, hurry? And I hurry making myself harried. I rush and become rash.

Instead, slow. What would slow look like in the midst of a rushing world? I think it feels like a wide open blue sky space when you’ve been walking through a torrential downpour. It’s like a quiet pond with a comfortable bench so you could perch and rest awhile. It gives time for soul work.

pond

A Quiet Pond” by Pietro Fragiacomo

It’s Sabbath every week. It’s sabbatical when needed – or maybe, before it’s needed. It’s vacation that is restful. It’s time away from the demands of your busy life. It’s daily moments to pause, to ponder, to stop.

Just to stop. To stop rushing even when the world around me tells me I must. It’s counter-cultural, and our communities are craving it. Someone, somewhere, to say and really mean it: “No rush.” Just breathe. And pay attention to your life – your one beautiful, wondrous life – and the lives around you.

To stop rushing is to start wondering. And to stop wonder-ing is to start rushing.

Finding Home Wherever You Are {at EnCourage}

Below is the beginning of an article I re-worked from this year to share at (En)Courage. You can find the full article here.

HEATHER NELSON|CONTRIBUTOR

I’ve been thinking about “home” a lot lately. Obsessing over it might be a more accurate description. My family doesn’t have a home of our own right now. And after 11+ years of dwelling in our own home, it’s different. We originally thought it would just be a few weeks, maybe two months tops, while were in transition from Virginia to South Carolina and waiting for our home to sell. But this stopgap arrangement has become nine months of living. It will be a full school year by the time this season comes to a completion.

Home In-Between

So how do we make “home” for a family of four while sharing my parents’ home? How do they expand their “home” to fit the demands, noise, delights, etc, of a family-of-four-with-two-7-year-olds? I could write a how-to article, co-authored with my parents, on all the ways to make it work or things to avoid. But that would miss the more important way God’s been teaching me about “home” while living in this unique season — like what it means in this time of home-of-our-own absence to know the Lord as my true dwelling place.

I am learning that “home” is many places and that I can choose to make whatever current living space my “home” (even if it’s not entirely or even partially mine). This current transitional season began last fall when our family moved from Norfolk, Virginia, to Greenville, South Carolina, for my husband to pursue full-time doctoral work. Greenville is my hometown — it’s where I was raised from the time I was two-years-old and it’s where I returned to live my first few years out of college. Yet returning to my hometown with my own family in tow hasn’t been as much like returning to “true home” as it once was.

My husband and I have made “home” in two places at this point in our 11+ years of marriage—Philadelphia and Norfolk, Virginia. Norfolk’s the only home our 7-year-old twin daughters have ever known. So coming back to South Carolina— while certainly familiar for me and wonderful in the aspect of being close to my family again— is not yet our home as a family. That’s because the process of a place becoming home takes time. We can’t speed it up, no matter how much we try or how many people we start off knowing or how familiar a geographical location is.  …

{read the rest of the article here}

Five Minute Friday: Surrender

Five Minute Friday is a writing community I link up with most Fridays. It’s a five-minute free write on a given topic. Learn more about it here.

white flag

When I think of surrender, what first comes to mind is “raising the white flag.” Like surrender as a last resort in a battle when you realize it’s over and you can’t win. You declare that you give in and give up. So it’s no wonder that “surrender” isn’t something high on my list of favorite topics. I don’t want to give up anything to anyone. Not control, not time, not money … surrender seems to imply I’m giving over what I’d rather keep. But I know that in the Christian life, one of the central themes is surrender. The gospel hymn “I Surrender All” comes to mind. We sing about it sweetly in church, yet I think it’s more like the last act of a battle in reality. I would rather not have to surrender to God. But I do. And what changes this action from grit-your-teeth-and-open-your-hands to willing is when I look at God’s surrender for me. In a word, His love. I don’t surrender first. God surrendered all – His one and only perfect Son – in the battle for my soul and yours against an evil to the core Enemy. Jesus opened wide his arms in surrender at the cross. It was bloody and messy and awful, I imagine. But He did that so that I could be welcomed into God’s love. Surrendering to love is sweet and drives out fear. This surrender is less white flag and more like a lover’s embrace after a long time apart. Finally, you’re here, and I’m here, and we’re together at last. I think that’s true Christian surrender.

Five Minute Friday: truth

After many months of hiatus, I’m returning to the blog – joining up with Five Minute Friday, hosted by Kate Motaung. Five minutes of free-writing on a given prompt. No editing or overthinking. So here goes … 

It’s so important that I named my daughter after it. Alethia, meaning truth in Greek. It’s easy to lose; hard to find sometimes. Other times it’s staring at you in the face, and then maybe you don’t want to admit what it is.

Pilate asked, “What is truth?” in the face of Truth Incarnate, Jesus led like a lamb to die on the cross.

We ask, “What is truth?” out of confusion. Desperation to know. Refusal to admit it because then it has claims on your life.

streams

Truth should be sweet. Refreshing like purified water. There are so many half-truths and deceptions floating around our world. To discover truth in any form is beautiful. Or at least it should be.

But for me, truth too often seems dry. Unconnected to my life. Which is the furthest thing from the truth. It roots me, anchors me in storms. Telling it leads to freedom and connection and community. Even when it’s hard. Always when it’s coated in love. It’s how I grow. Receiving and telling the truth in love.

Truth isn’t dry when we remember it’s always to be joined to love. Many more will argue with truth who cannot argue with love. So let’s wed the two together, as they’re meant to be. And then truth is attractive – winsome – sought for – and secure.

stories of shame, part 2

Read along for the introduction and part 1 here.

I’m writing this to give context to my book Unashamed: Healing Our Brokenness and Finding Freedom From Shame which is coming in June.

As I moved into middle and high school, shame became a familiar companion (though I couldn’t name it as such). As I feared exposure of weaknesses and social rejection, I began to withdraw. I presented as shy and quiet in the halls and classrooms of my high school. I didn’t date, not by choice but because of lack of opportunity. I distanced myself from my parents, believing that they were “uncool” and that I needed to create some space between me and them to socially survive high school. I tried to stay small and inconspicuous in high school. Don’t have the best grades, nor the worst; figure out what everyone else is wearing and copy it; do your work quietly, speak up only if necessary.

There was one oasis from shame – which for me was synonymous with the fear of rejection – and that was youth group. It was like I was a different person there. Not shy or quiet or in the background, but very much up front and involved. The difference was community – a community with shared values and a community who accepted me as I was. I had a strong group of friends, many of whom I am still in contact with today, and we were emboldened to do silly/crazy things together. We also prayed with and for each other, studied the Bible together, wrestled through hard things together – the death of classmates in a car accident, for example, and the opposition we faced as Christian high school students in public schools.

oasis from shameWhen I look back at high school, I cringe at the way shame held me back in many ways from living out of my confidence in Christ, especially in the way that I distanced myself from my parents. Yet I also am deeply grateful that I had a taste of the “unashamed” experience through youth group. This was a hint of more redemption that would come in later years.

A few things that I’d reflect on from this season as it relates to shame’s development:

  • Shame comes in the wake of some type of relational pain and brokenness. For me, it wasn’t connected with my sin but more like a result of living in a world where middle school girls can be mean and high school halls can be unkind.
  • Shame resilience happens through community. This community of my youth group strengthened me to be myself when I was with them, and to remember who I was and the strength God had given me through faith in Christ.
  • Shame can often only be named upon reflection. I had no category for “shame” while in high school, but it doesn’t mean I didn’t struggle with it. Any place in your life where you tried to be small and inconspicuous probably points to the presence of shame.

Questions to ask in reflection: 

-Are there seasons/aspects of your life where shame was present although you didn’t see it then?

-Were there tastes of community that helped fight shame? What was true about these communities?

stories of shame: a 10-part series

stories of shame blog button (1)

There is something about a story that draws us in – that engages us in a way that no other genre can. The power of a story hit me anew as we were driving back from South Carolina last Friday. It was getting late; it was rainy; and halfway into the 7-hour drive, I was already done. Then I started listening to a story (Serial Season 1 by This American Life), and I’m telling you, my driving experience transformed from monotonous to engaging. I found myself almost regretting the moment when we pulled into the driveway because it meant that I had to press pause on the story.

Isn’t that the power of a good story told well? More than mere entertainment or an academic lecture, it engages both our hearts and our minds.

I want to be a better storyteller. I want to tell the truth of who I am with all my heart (a paraphrase of Brené Brown/Glennon Melton Doyle). And especially to lead the conversation around shame that I hope to begin with my book’s launch next monthUnashamed: Healing our Brokenness and Finding Freedom From Shame.

I want to connect my story – and thereby your story – with The Story. The Story that makes ultimate sense of all of our stories, and which is the birthplace of each of our stories. The Story = humanity’s beginning, God’s eternity, Jesus’ salvation, + resurrection hope.

Don’t miss this series – subscribe now to my blog so that you’ll catch every part, delivered into your inbox [see sidebar where you can enter your email address].

And go ahead and pre-order my book if you want to hear more. I’d be so honored for you to join this journey with me!

Without further ado – part 1:

I remember life before shame. Neighborhood bike rides through streets as idyllic as their names – Sweetwater Court, Sugar Creek Road, Sun Meadow Road, Berrywood Court. Building forts in our wooded backyard with very little parental supervision because, well, it was safe, and we knew all of our neighbors. Family vacations with my two younger brothers. The rare joy of snow days as the main break from the normal, happy routine of church-school-home, repeat. Getting dressed in whatever I felt like. Being sad when I outgrew my favorite red sweater with panda bears on it. The worst “trauma” being a broken arm (or two) and a skinned knee.

Life felt secure, and so did I. Life wasn’t perfect, of course, and I fought a lot with my younger brothers – as well as trying to pin some of my misdeeds on them (which worked often, according to their accounts of growing up). But overall I felt very little shame in childhood.

shame part 1

Until, well, it began creeping up. The embarrassment of “liking” a boy who “liked” me back, and the complication of wanting him to know but not wanting to talk to him or even sit next to him in chapel. The sting of being rejected by said boy when a new girl moved to town. Getting really big plastic pink frames in fourth grade, and somehow connecting this fact to the boy’s rejection and the growing self-consciousness I felt. I dreaded having any attention brought to me, and I was terrified of any sort of public presentation in class. I began to wonder if my friends were true friends, or if I had any friends at all, after being socially rejected by most if not all of the girls in my eighth grade class.

I didn’t call it shame back then, and until a few years ago, I wouldn’t have labeled any of this growing self-consciousness, doubt, and fear of rejection as “shame.” Come along with me as I’ve learned how to better make sense of some painful aspects of my story, and how I’ve become free as well.

A few questions for you:

-Do you remember life before shame? What was it like?

-When did shame begin to enter your picture and how did it first show up?

 

The process of writing a book: my story

It all begins small, as most things do. Three years ago I was quoted in an article on body image at the Gospel Coalition’s blog. I submitted a few more articles in the next several months, and a couple more were published. One had a particularly large following – a Father’s Day post. I felt humbled and amazed to have been able to connect with so many people. And encouraged to keep on writing.

I attended The Gospel Coalition Women’s conference in June 2014, praying for a connection with a published author and direction for how to go about writing a book. God opened more doors than I could have imagined, through Collin Hansen inviting me at the last minute to a writers’ gathering where I met real-live-published-authors Hannah Anderson and Jen Pollock Michel. I heard a panel of writers talk about their writing – Gloria Furman, Jen Wilkin, Christina Fox, and Melissa Kruger. I took it all in.

And I also “happened” to meet a member of Crossway Publication’s marketing team, who later introduced me to an acquisitions editor at Crossway who walked me through the process of writing a book proposal in fall 2014. January 2015 brought the best news ever: my book proposal was accepted and I had a book contract for a book on the topic of shame and the gospel. I couldn’t believe it!

writing-a-bookFor the next six months, I wrote the book between the demands of life in stolen moments while our daughters were at preschool and early mornings and late evenings. Then began the editing process – which was probably my least favorite. But my editors Dave and Tara certainly softened the process for me and sharpened my writing significantly. I am so grateful for them, and for the entire team at Crossway who have been so kind and helpful and encouraging to this first-time author.

All of these efforts (plus asking for a foreword and endorsements) have coalesced into the advanced reader’s copy that was printed and mailed out in the past month to my fabulous launch team and influencers.

A graphic that describes my emotions throughout this process is this:

stages of writing a book

Unashamed: Healing Our Brokenness and Finding Freedom from Shame is available for pre-order at Amazon, with a June release date. And it will launch with this summer’s TGCW 2016 conference in Indianapolis. Then another stage of fun begins – having the privilege of connecting with readers and other audiences around the message of this book. I hope you’ll be part of this group!

when words break your 5-year-old’s heart

My normally exuberant, bouncy and easily-excitable 5-year-old sat crouched on her bed when it was time for preschool. When asked why, she said, “I don’t want to go to preschool!” before bursting into tears. It baffled me for about 2 seconds before I remembered what happened the day before.

Someone told my daughter, “I hate you!”

She is five. FIVE. And what stings more than hearing this from my child is feeling the weight of it with her, in reliving my own past experiences of social wounding and exclusion. No one prepares you for this part of parenting. It is one thing to deal with my own burdens of being socially excluded and rejected – the wounds now healed into scars by God’s grace (which included counseling and writing!). It is a totally different thing when those wounds are happening to your child’s heart.

It is one thing to hope for the gospel’s power to heal and restore and bring forgiveness for yourself; it is quite another thing to hope for the same gospel’s power to heal and restore and bring forgiveness to my heart as a mother aching with my child’s pain.

The shield I usually cling to is anger, first and foremost. It’s the easiest one to grasp, and I feel most powerful with it in my hands. Close behind this would be despair and pity for my child – to a point where I give way too much weight to this incident and allow her not to be brave and courageous and kind and resilient. Holding this shield close to my heart would make me hold my daughter too close for comfort and seek to protect her from all possible hurt things ever. (An impossible, and ultimately, fruitless task!) If I’d allowed this shield to win the morning, I would have coddled my daughter and told her she never had to go back to school ever again. But where would she be? That would have given too much power to the unkind words. It would have increased the shame that would linger and the fear ready in its wake. 

Instead my faith in a God who is just and loving calls me to put down my shields of anger and despair/pity, and to courageously guide my daughter through the shards of a broken world. A world where this is only the tip of the iceberg of what she’ll encounter throughout her life. A world where she, too, will say things and do actions that are unkind to others. A world where the line between “bully” and “victim” can be hours, minutes, or days apart.

To guide her through this world on that particular morning meant embracing her firmly and feeling deeply with her and for her the pain of these rejecting words. It meant telling her my own story of being hurt by others’ words, and answering her sweet question, “how many days did it hurt?” with an answer that is a prayer. “Oh, sweetie, it hurt for awhile, but Jesus healed my heart. And the best way to fight against these hurtful words is to be brave and kind to others, and to go back to school today. Otherwise, those words win. And we can’t have that! Remember you are loved and you are brave – and we are with you.”

What happens when words break your 5-year-old’s heart? You cry and protect – and ultimately choose to entrust her heart into the hands of the same God who’s loved and protected and guided you through your own journey. He is faithful, trustworthy, and the ever-present protector who takes wounds and turns them into compassion. Markers in a story that will shape who she is becoming: neither the bully who self-protects and retaliates nor the victim who is perpetually withdrawn, but the brave and kind girl who knows she’s loved more deeply than any words of hate and courageously moves into what she fears. 

 

when you break Lent (and it breaks you)

This is a post from three years ago, and it’s worth reposting. Because it’s just as true for me now as it was then. The only difference is that my Lenten fast is much smaller now – but it’s still more than what I can do on my own strength!

I offer this as an encouragement to look up and out to Jesus. He is our hope, and He is the whole point of Lent. It’s the journey to the cross.

***

Lent.

The period of 40 weekdays that in the Christian Church is devoted to fasting, abstinence, and penitence.

I chose what I thought would be four hard but do-able items for my Lenten fast this year. Call me an overachiever, or more accurately, an over-estimator of my own strength. A month ago I posted about my hopes for Lent. How hard could it really be? And how refreshing and empowering could it be! In taking away many of my heart’s distractions – phone apps, Target, sweets, t.v. – I assumed that God would replace my heart’s misplaced affections with a renewed love for Christ and the people around me.

About three weeks in, I broke Lent. Fully and completely. Not just one day, but I think it was about every day of the week and I broke every single “fast” multiple times. I rationalized why for each of them.

  • Going to Target will help me stick to our family budget on some key grocery items like Kashi cereal and goldfish.
  • “Non-essential” phone app category expanded dramatically. I started Lent with 6 icons on my home screen that I deemed “non-essential.” I’m ending Lent with twice as many.
  • Television is the only way that my husband and I can really share down time together after busy days in the midst of a busy week
  • I really just “need” a quick pick-me-up. Nothing like a bite of chocolate to do that.

My response to breaking Lent? First, my typical pull-yourself-up-by-your-boot-straps approach: “Just try harder, Heather. Get it together. You can do it!” As this failed, I descended to self-blame, punishment, guilt and shame. “This is really not that hard. There are millions of people in the world who LIVE without these things daily, and you can’t just go without for 40 days?? What is wrong with YOU?” That also got me nowhere fast.

And then I realized that maybe this is the real purpose of Lent. To reveal (again) that I cannot fulfill the Law. Any law – of God’s eternally perfect law, other people’s expectations, or my own standards. Maybe Lent is meant to show me how little I can do in my own strength, and therefore how MUCH I need Jesus and His life, death, and resurrection that we celebrate at Easter. Truth echoed in these verses from Romans 3:19-20 –

Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.

Breaking Lent is one way that the law breaks me. It’s a beautiful breaking, for it leads me to the One who restores and makes new. If I didn’t practice a Lenten fast this year, I would be that much less aware of my helplessness to gain eternal life and a relationship with God on my own strength or efforts. And so, in an upside-down backwards way, breaking Lent has broken me of trying and pointed me in desperate hope to Jesus whose death we remember this week and whose life we celebrate next Sunday. Listen to this hope found in Romans 5:6 and 21 –

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. … so that … grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

As we round the final corner of Lent, walking into Holy Week’s somber reflections, let us remember that we cannot earn Easter on our own merit. Our best trying leaves us hopeless. Let us fall in our weariness and allow Jesus to pick us up and bring us with Him to the cross and then the hope of the empty tomb this week and always.