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.”]

a new decade begins & a spiritual father dies

On June 7, 2019, I turned the page onto a new decade. I chose to mark it by a long weekend at my favorite beach with our family of four. Despite predictions of rain for the whole weekend, the sun broke through, and we had glorious weather for the better part of our beach days. I never tire of the rhythm of waves crashing on the shore, soothing and powerful and constant. I love looking into the horizon of ocean meeting sky and feeling wondrously small. In all my doubts about God and faith and goodness and struggle and suffering, the presence of the ocean is a reassuring reminder that I am a created being, and that I have a Creator. The world is not up to me to run, nor can I alone solve its problems or complexities. In the face of the vast expanse of the sea, I get to be a part of the creation whose primary job is simply to worship. (I am not saying worship is simple. Far from it. It can be quite costly, actually, and quite powerful, and worship is always transformative.)

In our time away, I found space to reflect on this past decade. It’s easily been – to quote Dickens – “the best of times and the worst of times.” Shortly after my last big birthday in 2009, we moved from Philadelphia to Norfolk, Virginia, for Seth’s first job as an assistant pastor. Later that same year, I launched a counseling practice at our church. God blessed us with the gift of our twins in 2010. Our daughters began preschool in 2013, and they started kindergarten in 2016. Seth and I celebrated our first decade of marriage, and I published my first book that same year (2016). Then we uprooted our family from Virginia and moved to South Carolina in 2017 to live closer to extended family while Seth pursued his Ph.D. I went to Italy to visit my dear friend, Maria, in 2018. I began working on a second small writing project in 2019 (due to be released this fall). And – I lose track of all of the years – I became an aunt to 7 additional nephews and nieces this decade as well (through a combination of births and foster care).

2010: our tiny twin bundles of joy arrive
2016: celebrating our 10 year anniversary in the Bahamas with dear friends Karen & Dan
2018: A view from the Italian coast near Naples while visiting Maria & her family

Those are a few of the major milestones in the category of “the best of times.” The “worst of times” – well, I would rather not dwell on them in detail. But I have blogged through some of them in this space. I have written about others. Other stories have yet to be told. To summarize, they follow the themes of my personal struggle with depression and anxiety, striving to live and write “Unashamed” while being more aware than ever before of the ways shame has had a hold on my life, grappling with deep communal tragedy, fighting my own stubborn sins of pride and entitlement and anger and fear, navigating how to be a wife and a mom and a writer and a counselor without losing sight of my primary identity as God’s beloved daughter, striving to live out the truth of my own writing and teaching, and learning my story and how to share it. There have been mentors and counselors and friends and family members who are witnesses to these dark moments and who have carried me – and our family – through them. There have been authors whose words I have clung to to make sense of the apparently senseless and meaningless, and who have served as guides to me along the journey of both the highs and the lows of this decade.

And that brings me to the second part of today’s post. One of those foundational guides and spiritual fathers died on my milestone birthday. David Powlison, professor and counselor at CCEF, passed into glory on June 7, 2019. I expect there will be many who will eulogize him – as well they should – and many who will remember the impact he had on their lives. I am one of them. I was first introduced to David Powlison in the fall of 2004 as I embarked on my counseling degree at Westminster Theological Seminary. He was my professor in the foundational course of the semester called Dynamics of Biblical Change, and I shared an auditorium with a hundred or so eager students. His instruction changed the way I viewed the process of personal change/sanctification. He taught a few other courses that were part of my degree in Biblical Counseling. Each time, he offered creative counseling insights into the human heart, and he exuded a deep compassion for people that was contagious.

David Powlison carried with him a sense of wonder at God’s Word and God’s work in the world. Whether it was a class or a conference, I cannot remember, nor do I recall the context – but I distinctly remember the way he highlighted the wonder of “a goldfinch in flight.” To this day, I don’t notice a goldfinch without thinking about what he said. I had never noticed goldfinches before, but now I can’t miss them. And I can’t help but to notice the beauty of their wings in flight. And I worship.

That was his larger point – it always was – to draw us to worship the God he himself delighted in. In worshiping, we change. We are conformed to whatever we love most. That is challenging, convincing, and hopeful all at the same time. I’ll end this post with a favorite quote from him, as I join a vast community that grieves his passing – with the hope he testified to – that we will meet again perfectly sanctified, in perfect communion with God and one another.

a snapshot of the glorious ordinary

ordinary

I haven’t written in this space in awhile. In fact, it’s been almost six months since my last post. I’ve asked myself a few times why I’m not writing as much. The simplest answer is that I feel like I don’t have much to write about. Yet this space is supposed to be “finding beauty + grace in the ordinary + imperfect.” So for me to think that life just seems too ordinary to write about is exactly missing the point – that the reason I began blogging in the first place was to record the wonder of the every day. To force myself to focus on the daily glory and grace that are flooding in, if only I have eyes to notice.

So in neglecting writing, I have kept myself from reflecting on life. Without further ado, here is a snapshot of what feels ordinary and certainly imperfect … but I record it in order to help myself (and you as well?) find the beauty and grace in it.

  • I work a traditional “9-to-5” as a litigation paralegal in my dad’s medical malpractice law firm. This constitutes the majority of my waking hours and it’s my weekday normal. Working for my dad and his partners in this field of medical malpractice (MedMal for short) has been like learning a new language. I am not medically trained at all, and yet a majority of my job has been reviewing, organizing, and making sense of medical records. Add to that the legal world of motions and hearings and objections and stipulated evidence – and it really has been a whole new world for me.
  • My husband is a full-time Ph.D. student, studying long-distance to get his doctorate in Christian Education from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (TEDS) outside of Chicago. He is also the major home support – greets our daughters after school each day and keeps our home running (laundry, dishes, bills, etc.).
  • Our twin daughters are now in second grade. They have homework every day, and they’re reading up a storm. They love their school and their friends and their books.  We enjoy playing games as a family and riding bikes and going on hikes.
  • We are members of a sweet church-plant in downtown Greenville that loves the arts, the addicted, the poor, the adopted, and best of all, the gospel of grace. It has been a good season for us to simply be involved in a church as a family instead of leading a church.
  • Challenges that I wrestle with in this season include:  how to slow down time because it really seems like our daughters are growing up way too quickly; how to encourage our daughters to love one another with kindness instead of sibling squabbles; how to make the most of the limited time (nights + weekends) I have with family and friends; setting different expectations in this season of full-time work/husband in full-time school; finding time for reflection (and writing!).

I think part of the reason I haven’t written in awhile is that this season of life has been so very different for all of us. I haven’t known how to talk about my job as a litigation paralegal when my identity/platform/calling was previously as a counselor in the local church (for a decade). So much of my writings were a combination of insights/reflections from life as a counselor who was also a pastor’s wife and a part-time stay-at-home-mama of twin preschoolers. My life and roles now are just quite different. I’m the full-time working parent in our home currently; I’m the wife of a Ph.D. student; I’m the mama of elementary age girls who are increasingly independent (as it should be). They don’t even have to rely on me to read to them anymore – what a change that is!

And then the other reason is this stubborn, persistent struggle with burnout and depression over the past few years. I’m not sure I’ll ever write all about that in as public a space as this blog – yet I am willing to share more if it would help others. I’ve been through places of darkness that I did not know were possible to come out of, and yet God has brought me out through the Light of His grace as it shone through His people and His word. After years of pedal-to-the-medal going-going-going in every direction (home, church, career, writing) – I just couldn’t go any further. And I stopped. Fairly abruptly. And for much longer than I would have chosen. Depression was a source of the burnout as much as it was a consequence of the burnout.

Yet in all of the ups and downs of the past few years … and in all the very ordinariness of our current day-to-day … this verse is one I cherish. And I end tonight’s post with this, making it my prayer for you to know this, too, wherever your day-to-day life finds you these days:

“The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance.” (Psalm 16:6)

Stories of shame: part 8/performance shame

I could start by noting that it’s been TWO YEARS since part 7 of my 10-part series on shame was written. Just picking up the proverbial pen and paper after such a long absence triggers all of my performance shame. Why didn’t you finish this before now? What’s the point of continuing the stories of shame so long after the last part? Why write at all? 

But I want to speak against the performance shame that would keep me from creating new words and writing new ideas by starting.

My daughters are in second grade now, and while there is much that I love about this age, I’ll admit that I’m inwardly a little sad because they start getting grades. For the first time in their lives, they’re going to be given “A’s” or “B’s” or “C’s” or any combination thereof. And the message will begin to creep in that their worth is tied to their grades. And the shame may start when she compares her work to her sister’s and finds that hers doesn’t quite measure up. What makes me sad is that I see this process still at work in my own life. I don’t get graded on my performance – not in letter grades at least – but there are subtle and not-so-subtle ways that I’m told how good my performance is.

grades

Like money. Let’s talk about that taboo subject. Don’t all of us inherently assume that the more money someone makes, the better he or she is? The more worthy they are of our adulation? And no one wants to get a pay cut – not simply because of having less money for spending but also of the inevitable struggle with self-worth that will follow. We are trained to equate our financial worth with our value as people. It becomes the adult grading system of how “good” someone is and how much they’ve “arrived.” Yet the problem isn’t with money itself, nor it is wrong to have a job that pays well. The problem is that performance shame teaches us to measure ourselves against one another, and to do so via our output (performance). In other words, we compare. And in comparison, I will always come up short or superior. Neither is a place where we are to dwell.

How does Jesus break into our performance shame cycles? He does the disarming thing of saying, “It is finished,” at His lowest, most shameful moment of his life – death on the cross. It looks like utter defeat and total failure (what performance shame most fears). But what is finished? All of our striving – all of the ways we try to prove we are worthy to others and ultimately worthy of our Creator God. He flips the definition of shame on its head and completes what will always be unfinished in  my half-hearted efforts. He trades my imperfection for His perfection – giving me not only His clean record, but His righteous living. In the Spirit, I am free to live out of Christ’s life. And His is perfect. There’s no room for comparison here, no waiting to see if I’ve “made the grade.” It’s already been accomplished, and it’s perfect.

How does that change my life – my work? It means that I am free to push past shame’s lies of not-worthy and not-good-enough and don’t-try. I look at Jesus’ perfection on my behalf, and I freely engage in the work and life He has given me to live. I can rest before my work is done. I can appreciate another’s work and art without jealousy. I can make mistakes because my salvation and God’s love for me doesn’t rest on my efforts but on Christ’s finished work. And then joy begins to take root in place of shame as I find myself in a community of fellow ones who are free.