Brené Brown on “Rising Strong” (a review at TGC)

Dear readers, I am thrilled to share with you my official review of Brené Brown’s latest book over at The Gospel Coalition Blog. You who have been following me for awhile know that I’ve been tracking Brown’s work for a few years now. You who are new may find it interesting to read these posts about my early encounters with her material and ideas:

As always, you honor me by your presence here. Thank you for stopping by.


Rising Strong: The Reckoning, The Rumble, The Revolution is the third in the list of popular books written by shame-researcher Brené Brown, the University of Houston professor whose TED talks on vulnerability and shame went viral and have propelled her into the national spotlight. Rising Strong follows Daring Greatly(2012) and The Gifts of Imperfection (2010). I’m a self-professed Brown fan who’s been influenced and inspired by her work in my own thoughts about shame, which will be published as Unashamed: Healing Our Brokenness and Finding Freedom from Shame (Crossway, June 2016).

As a church-based biblical counselor with more than nine years of counseling experience and a master of arts in biblical counseling from Westminster Theological Seminary/CCEF, I would like to speak into both what’s good and what’s misleading about Brown’s book. To be clear where I’m coming from, I’m speaking as one who loves biblical theology and has been changed by the gospel of grace that sets me free from my self-righteous striving. Galatians 2:20–21 is my life verse as a recovering self-righteous Pharisee who can too easily trust in her own works.

Pitfalls to Sidestep

In reading Rising Strong, it seems the most obvious pitfall could be outright dismissal by the Christian community and particularly church leaders because of its raw language and failure to speak explicitly about Jesus. Brown cusses throughout the book, and does so unapologetically. This may well be a stumbling block for many readers. However, if you’re able to move past that problem, there is much here for us to learn. Much of her material maps onto a gospel-grace framework—if only Brown would follow the trajectory to its conclusion. She gives words to and speaks boldly about vulnerability (which 2 Corinthians 12:9–10 calls “strength” through boasting in weakness); about the value of owning our failures (instead of hiding them) and then learning from them; and about the importance of examining the default stories we tell ourselves when we experience failure and shame.

[To read the rest of my review at The Gospel Coalition Blog, click here.]

Five Minute Friday: “real”

Our week in review: celebrated St. Patrick’s Day (and our 9-year engagement anniversary) by eating Lucky Charms (my daughters’ choice), wearing green, listening to Irish music; continued in the sometimes-overwhelming rhythm of our normal lives as a pastor-counselor/writer duo trying to manage our home and nurture our 4-year-old twins’ hearts and faith; laughed a little at the antics of our daughters along the way; rejoiced at God’s provision of a home for my in-laws to buy (they’ve been renting since moving here in the fall – and this home is just *perfect* for them!); saw depths of sin and depths of grace in my own heart as I love and counsel others through the same.

And then here – to Five Minute Friday. Aaahh. A resting place, of sorts. Writing on an assigned topic for five minutes, unedited. Here I go –


The Velveteen RabbitReal is so hard to become, isn’t it? Just ask the Velveteen Rabbit, or Eustace from The Voyage of the Dawn Treader who had to undergo a painful extraction of his dragon-like skin in order to discover who he was.

Real is paraded as what we are all going for these days – “real food” “authentic/real relationships” “real hope for troubled times” “reality TV shows (that are anything BUT real …)”.

But to be real? Well, it takes courage. It is hard to show up as I really am, without knowing how you will receive me. It can be excruciating to be the first one vulnerable in a group. Or to be exposed for my failings in front of anyone else. But empathy and connection and love cannot happen unless I risk becoming real.* Being vulnerable – showing up as I am unmasked by disguises or pretenses or what I think you want me to be. Oh, to be real! It will open up doors of belonging (and it has in my life), and it will also open up long-standing wounds. 

I’ve experienced both in my journey to become real. To show up because I know I am already loved, forgiven, accepted, delighted in, validated, dignified. To show up to others in the middle of my weaknesses because I am trusting that God’s grace is made strong here … in these very fissures of my cracked clay jar that let in (and out) the Light of hidden glory. 

photo credit:

photo credit:

*I am indebted to two courageous women who have shown me through their writings how to be real like this, and whose ideas I am paraphrasing and personalizing here: Brené Brown’s The Gifts of Imperfection and Daring Greatly and Glennon Melton’s Carry On, Warrior and blog at

on being brave by playing tennis

“I am just not athletic.”

If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times. It’s quite simple, really: I grew up as the only daughter with two younger brothers, and any sport we attempted, they were always better at than me. Always as in, exponentially so. My response? Being the perfectionist that I am, I decided to focus on my areas of success, namely reading books and chatting with friends and getting good grades at school. My parents wanted me to be well-rounded, so they forced encouraged me to take tennis lessons from the time I was around 10-years-old. It’s the only sport that I have actually practiced with any sort of consistency throughout my life. Until about 15 years ago, that is, when I began working and then went to grad school and now with young kids, I’m lucky if I’m able to fit in a weekly yoga class. [sidebar: I’ve decided that for a workout to be motivating, it has to be intrinsically fun, social, or relaxing. Yoga and Zumba classes are ideal.]

tennisNeedless to say, I’m a bit rusty on any tennis skills I had acquired. Yet I also still own a tennis racket, and I’ve assumed it’s like riding a bike. You can pick it back up any old time, right? So when two friends invited me to practice with them this week, I jumped at the opportunity. That was yesterday. And it was hard. It was hard to lob balls over the fence into the neighboring courts time after time. It was hard to whiff more than a couple good serves. It was hard to feel so out of practice when it was something I used to do decently. It was hard to be doing so in public. With friends. ! To feel out of my element. It was hard to feel achy at the end of playing because my weak ankle began rebelling.

But “we can do hard things,” says Glennon Melton (of Momastery and Carry On, Warrior fame). And in fact, anything worth doing will be hard at some point. Hard as in it will require effort, and you’ll want to quit, and you’ll have to overcome your natural resistance to anything more difficult than picking up the remote control or browsing Facebook on your smartphone.

My friend who invited me to play tennis knows this about me, and she sent me an email today saying, “Thanks for being brave!” It meant the world, and it made me wonder whether we should be doing this more for each other. To affirm your bravery for showing up when it feels easier to “call in sick” (on your job, or motherhood, or life in general, or the marriage, or the church small group). You showed up, didn’t you? And so let’s affirm that in one another.

For the truth is that there is no other way to love one another than by practicing to love (which will inherently be messy and imperfect). And we should be quick to affirm even the smallest movements of others towards love (as they turn away from self-obsession, self-pity, self-promotion, etc.). If you want practical help on how, two books are my favorites: “The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness” by Tim Keller [my review here] and “Love Walked Among Us” by Paul Miller.

What about you? What have you done lately that was brave for you, though perhaps not recognized as such by the world at large? I’d love to hear from you!

On vulnerability, leadership, and courage

I am a big fan of Brene Brown. She is known as a shame-researcher whose TED talk on vulnerability went viral and pushed her into fame. What she says connects with us as humans who are all hiding yet want to be known. We’ve been doing that since the beginning of it all. See the first act of this tragedy starring Adam and Eve in Genesis 3.

I listened to an interview with her this past weekend, and one sentence has haunted me. In that really good way, of sticking in your mind and being a place you want to return to over and over and over. An idea that you want to incorporate into you, and who you are, and how you live. She said,

Leadership without vulnerability breeds disengagement. 

All of us can think of leaders who engaged us through their own vulnerability, and those who alienated many through their lack thereof. What kind of leader are you? And don’t say, “well, I’m not a leader.” Because you are. Are you a parent? An older sibling? A cousin? A friend? Someone looks up to you, whether you realize it or not. How are you leading? With courage and vulnerability? Or through hiding, trying to cover up and appear as strong?

Here is one working definition of courage, according to Brene Brown:

This is the impetus behind my blogging, my speaking, and my writing. Oh, that it would also be the way that I parent, befriend, mentor, shepherd, and counsel! Let’s do this together. For we the Redeemed have the greatest reason for courage, in the love of God the Father who’s made us forever beautiful in Jesus Christ. Our brokenness is exchanged for his beauty. We are free to be courageous, and to lead through our vulnerability.

If you’re also a fan, what’s one of your favorite Brene quotes? I’d love to hear it.