16 Books I read in 2016

I’m getting a little audacious to make this an annual thing, but maybe that’s because that’s the title of the very first book I read this year.

(P.S. You can purchase the book by clicking the photo!)

1.) Audacious by Beth Moore

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Read my review of Audacious here.

2.) I am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban by Malala Yousafzai

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I am all about some girl power.  And while many believe gender inequality has been provided to all, there are still so many girls who need to be empowered.  Girls who have believed in themselves because one girl did, named Malala.  Malala’s story is eye-opening, touching, and moving.  Yes, I’m a little behind on this book trend, but I would give this book to any girl 10 and up for them to know what a privilege it is to be educated and what some girls go through just to learn.

3.) Steadfast Love by Lauren Chandler

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Read my review of one of my favorite books I’ve read in a while here.

4.)  Jesus Feminist by Sarah Bessey

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Behind on the book trends again, I know.  I grew up in a world where the word “feminism” was overwhelmingly hushed.  I was a little fearful of finding this book to be an angry feminist ranting about the Church and faith I love, but I absolutely loved this book.
Sarah Bessey shares of story of growing up in a gender neutral world, then navigating moving to the States and being placed under societal norms of the roles of men and women in the Church.  Read it and let me know what you think.

5.) The Sabbath by Abraham Heschel

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This is anything but a light read.  A Rabbi shares traditions and stories passed down within his family, along with principles within Jewish tradition that paint the picture of the deep value of the Sabbath.

6.) Looking for Lovely by Annie F. Downs

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Read my review of Looking for Lovely here.  Also, this summer I was invited by Annie to come attend a weekend in Nashville, TN walking through all of her important places from this book.  Annie is forever throwing a party for Jesus and it was a joy to be a part of.

7.) A Grief Observed by C. S. Lewis

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This was the first and one of the only books I could read following losing my Dad suddenly.  C. S. Lewis shares his very real and raw thoughts and wrestlings following having lost his wife to cancer. It put words to a lot of the depths I was feeling and if you have ever grieved anyone, read it.

8.)  A Heart Like His by Beth Moore

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This is a Beth Moore Bible Study on the life of David.  I loved how she brought David’s life to light and made it so real and relatable.  It can be done as a daily Bible Study as the chapters are around 4 or 5 chapters, but I got sucked in and just didn’t really want to sit it down as Beth made David feel like my best friend, she just made him so real.  I’ve since bought it for multiple friends.

9.)  Life Together in Christ by Ruth Haley Barton

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I am a big Ruth Haley Barton fan.  In this book, she highlights the value of Biblical Community using the story of Jesus’ appearances on the Emmaus Road. She wrote so many truths from this passage I hadn’t thought of before and made beautiful connections between this account in the gospels and the modern Christian life.  This is a great resource on the value of other believers in the Christian life.

10.) Conversion & Discipleship by Bill Hull

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This was required reading for a seminary class this fall, but I really loved it.  Bill Hull explained so well that walking with believers does not end once they come to know Christ, but that is only the beginning, highlighting both parts of the Great Commission.  Great read!

11.) Transformational Discipleship by Eric Geiger and Michael Kelley

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This book was similarly a book for a seminary class, but I enjoyed its very practical principles of discipleship presented.  The authors focused on how growth takes place in the life of a believer through various stories of individuals’ transformation.  Also a good read!

12.) Teenage Girls by Ginny Olson

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While we’re on the topic of seminary books, I absolutely loved this one.  While it is a little dated, the modern psychological research included sets this book far above many I have read on ministering to teenage girls.  It did a great job of discerning what ministers should encourage parents to reinforce in each stage and issue of teenage girls’ development and what is important for the minister to recognize.  I would say this is a must read for anyone who works with teenage girls!

13.) Present over Perfect by Shauna Niequist

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This book put words to transformation in my life I had just experienced or was currently undergoing.  I immediately felt like I could better explain myself through beautiful metaphors and stories used in this book.  I have continued to reference it since I’ve read it and bought it for multiple friends.  This book is all about showing up even when you’re imperfect and I think we all need to do so much more of it.

14.) Talking as Fast as I Can by Lauren Graham

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I listened to this book on Audible, which I would highly recommend.  Lauren Graham shares her story of how she so deeply identified with the character of Lorelai Gilmore in my favorite TV Show Gilmore Girls.  She watched every season and talked about what was going on in her life.  She shared a little about Parenthood and the shared more about the Revival with interesting details and beautiful stories in between.  Y’all these are my shows and I loved this.

15.) The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis

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I mean, just read this.

16.) Hidden Christmas by Tim Keller

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This was a good read for this Christmas, as Tim Keller highlighted many of the not so romantic details about the story of the night in Bethlehem when Jesus was born.  He beautifully wove a good deal of Old Testament anecdotes and details and did a great job of bringing the story to life while shedding a great deal of new light on typically overlooked pieces of the story.


So those are my reads from this year.  Comment below with yours!  Also, click FOLLOW in the left column for book reviews hot of the presses.

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Home.

There’s something about the Holiday season that makes us treasure home a little more.  While the summer is filled with plans after plans to get as far away from home as possible or spend the most amount of time outside or at a friend’s house, the holidays bring us back.  We decorate, adorn, nestle in, and find a cozy spot on the couch next to the tree.  The holidays make us recognize what’s around us, sometimes reflecting on what’s changed in the year, sometimes being grateful for another year.  It makes us see home as a place and a part of us, rather than just part of the mundane of life.  It sheds a little light on why our ordinary is actually special.

This idea of home, especially around the holidays has changed for me a good deal in my lifetime.  I grew up in one house I can barely remember until I turned 4 then we moved into what I consider my “childhood home”.  It was an old house built in 1900 on a street in southern Virginia where trees that filled the median were each dedicated to local WWII heroes.  There was even a cannon at the end of that road, Mount Vernon Avenue.  Our house was brick, three bricks deep actually in each and every wall.  It had blue shutters and lots of little quirks because of its age that were just normal to me like having a small kitchen attached to the kitchen called a “butler’s kitchen” and an extra cellar attached to the unfinished basement (note: this was where we stored our gallons and gallons of water to prepare for Y2K, but if you’re reading this, you probably don’t even know what that was.)  The upstairs hallway of that house was so wide we called it “bowling ally” and we loved to run and slide down it in our socks.  Occasionally, though, nails would come up out of the boards in the floor, yet at only 6 or 7 years old this didn’t phase me.  It was normal for me to pick up the hammer we kept at the top of the stairs for this very reason and hammer that nail back down.

221 Mount Vernon Avenue in all of its quirkiness and grandeur was home.  It was where parents of friends dropped me off and I never had to give them directions.  All of our neighbors called it “the Dalton house” and it was.  It was the porch where I took pictures before my first dance recital dressed as a bumble bee, it was the back yard where I learned how to play basketball, it was the driveway where my brother infamously made it onto America’s Funniest Home Videos, it was the back deck where my birthday parties were held, it was the laundry room where I learned how to do laundry.  It was home.  But then it wasn’t.

Then there were moving trucks and boxes.  There was newness and change and so much to be done.  That was November and Christmas came quickly.  That Christmas just felt different and I knew all the ones to follow would be different.  I didn’t live at home anymore.  I didn’t really know what home was anymore.  We transitioned from that house full of history to a brand new one and as I think about that was pretty symbolic of the move my family was taking.  Both my mom and dad’s families had lived in that small town of Danville, Virginia for as long as anyone could remember.  My parents and their parents and theirs had a deep history in that town, a name for themselves, deep deep roots, and we were beginning totally new.  It was kind of earth shattering for my little 11 year old heart.  That Christmas was the hardest.

I went up to Virginia a week early to spend time with friends to muster up the closest feeling of home I could find, but it just felt like it was gone. I remember deeply resonating with Cindy-Lou-who on How the Grinch Stole Christmas singing, “Where are you Christmas?  Why can’t I find you?  Why have you turned away?  My world is changing.  I’m rearranging.  Does that mean Christmas changes too?”

Yes, Cindy-Lou-who.  It does.

It felt like Christmas lost its magic and in a way it had.  Because when you don’t have a sense of home, you don’t have a place to wake up excited for the magic of a special day.  We were barely even sure which room to have our tree in.  It didn’t feel right to not have my cousins who lived around the corner come over around lunch so we could all play with each other’s toys.  If anything, Christmas just made it all the more real that the home I had always known would be gone.


But somehow things changed as they have a way of doing.  And the new house in South Carolina became home.  I missed having the comfort of being known and having grown up with people my whole life, but I began to feel at home.  Somewhere between club volleyball tournaments, chorus performances at school, mission trips at church, and all the times in between, the friends I made here became home for me.  The small group of girls I met with each Sunday night from 7th-12th grade on a couch where someone was always drinking coffee. Home.  The school where I became friends on my first day with a girl who had cried and prayed for a best friend the night before.  Home.  The girls ministry associate at my church who I soon realized I had everything in common with and soon became my sister.  Home.

But as things have a way of doing, it was time for change.  So I found myself again moving south to a tiny little town called Rome, Georgia.  The largest college campus tucked far up in the hills of Georgia had captivated my heart.  There were building that looked like castles and I knew I would one day call it home.  But that scared me.  I knew what it was like for home to change.  But once I was there touring on campus, my fears of college went away and I knew it was where I was supposed to be.

I quickly made friends on campus and loved my school but  never imagined the way that little town could wrap its way around my heart.  Rome doesn’t have too much to it and it’s often hard to find a place if you haven’t been there forever, but I love it so very deeply to the point I have to stop myself from reading the Newspaper in line at the local coffee shop when its my turn to order.  In my first few years, I always imagined Rome to just be a transition.  I knew it would always be special to me, but I never knew what it would become.  Home.

I began working with girls at my Church and my advisor from Berry also went to my Church.  I remember the first time I went to an event with other girls at that church.  It felt like the first time I could stop being a student, stop trying to be cool, and just let my guard down.  Though it was my very first time in that beautiful loft apartment downtown that once belonged to Mary Magoni I knew the feeling that met me there- home. And it hasn’t left.

Last week I hosted a baby shower full of ladies from that very church.  I sat in my living room- the living room of a house I am able to rent because a couple from that church moved to Kenya to be missionaries that own that house and all of the ladies filled my home.  Ladies whose daughters I had known while I worked in youth and would often see as I would sit by myself in church, but ladies in the past few months who have come to feel like family to me.  The room was full of laughter and celebration that my friend Mary who first made me feel at home was about to welcome baby Claire into the world.  There was food and coffee and games but I was just overwhelmed with that feeling.  That familiarity.  That fullness.  That sense of home.

I’ve known since I was 11 that home isn’t a place.  I think I got it when I learned that the “Church” wasn’t a building.  And that feeling has met me in the oddest of places.

One in particular is in my favorite TV Show- Gilmore Girls.  I remember the first time I ever watched an episode of Gilmore Girls.  It was the episode when Lorelai is making Rory’s prom dress and the mannequin she is working on falls on top of her.  It was one of the first times I found myself instantly lost in a show.  I had seen 2 minutes of it, but I was instantly laughing out loud and deeply invested.  This love continued on a daily basis.  I would come home from school and work on homework while watching Full House, but at 5:00 I knew Gilmore Girls would come on.  I started receiving the DVD sets for each Christmas and would watch all the episodes in order as I was falling asleep every night.  I sometimes feel like I know Lorelai and Rory’s stories better than my own, as I would revisit them every day and spend any sick days or mental health days doing the same- watching Gilmore Girls.  I remember when I first came to interview for the WinShape College Program at Berry and I walked into the room where I would stay for the night with a girl that would later become my small group leader.  “You have Gilmore girls!” was maybe the fist thing I said.  And I knew I could be at home with them.

This year, 8 years after the show’s last season, Gilmore Girls came back together to make 4 episodes.  As the music played, the sights shown of Stars Hollow, Lauren Graham and Alexis Bledel’s banter became audible, and cups of coffee were poured I began to cry because something about those seven seasons in Stars Hollow and the bond between Lorelai and Rory were that very thing for me- home.  They had seen me through the transition from Virginia to South Carolina, from South Carolina to college, and through my life crumpling to pieces for the last year.  That’s what home is. It’s constant.  And in an ever changing world sometimes home takes on a very strange from- like a TV Show.

But this sense of home met me in an even stranger place.  In a hospital waiting room on what I think was a Monday night.  We were sitting in the Critical Cardiac Unit lobby and most of the other patient’s families had gone home or been transferred to the heart floor but we were still there and had been since the Wednesday before when my Dad had his heart attack.  He had been unconscious all week and we had stayed closely by his side, praying for his every breath, pulse, rhythm, blood pressure, and whatever I could muster up the strength to understand and pray for.  It was traumatic, exhausting, heart wrenching, and just made it feel like time had stopped.  We had tried to take him off sedation and wake him up the day before, but it didn’t work.  So on this day, we were doing brain scans to hear back essentially whether or not I had my Daddy anymore, if it was just a responding body on a ventilator with no brain activity or if it was a long road of recovery ahead if my Daddy’s brain was in tact.  They had done the tests and we were waiting for a neurologist to come and tell us the results.  This honestly should have been the hardest time of waiting in my whole life, but that feeling met me there again.

We sat in the lobby as the sun set outside the window, a window I hadn’t really noticed at all before that week.  Someone had brought us dinner and we ate well.  We had been so blessed that week.  I watched as friends who are really family from our church and various other friends sat around with us in various pockets.  I was with my friend Emily Wyatt and our friend Tonya Bryson.  Our youth pastor was there.  Andrew’s high school best friend was there.  Countless people.  People we didn’t have to be anything with but just loved us and the air was light.  It just felt warm.  My youth pastor took a video panning the rom because there was just something about it.  I kept saying it felt like Sunday lunch after church with all of your family because that was really what it was like.  It was a little piece of home.

If I have learned anything, it’s that home isn’t a place or a person and it’s not just one place or one person.  It’s not a place where everything is right or magical or easy.  It’s a feeling and a presence.  It’s a warmth amidst the hardest days and a safe place amidst the scariest.  A real home isn’t somewhere you post on Pinterest about how well it’s decorated.  A real home is somewhere you are always met with undeserved warmth and love of being seen and known.  A real home is a sense that you belong, you’re safe, and things will be just like this for a little while, amidst a world where our plans disappoint us and let us down.  And that home becomes real for us, when we first allow ourselves to need it.

and into the darkness, light

My pastor started his sermon this past Sunday reading a letter a friend of his wrote about having lost his Dad.  He described that he had again come to know “the stench of death”.

The phrase sent me reeling as it sent me back into a hospital room praying hopeless prayers in between my own sweet Daddy’s spaced out breaths.  I remember how I slept that night.  The last night I would sleep in the same room as his breathing body.  It was a deep and somehow somewhat healing sleep.  There was a safety in his presence that I miss.  I haven’t slept the same since.

I’ve come to know death and darkness this year.

Darkness is a weird thing.  It’s scary and what you can’t see is scary, but once you’re in it, you feel comfortable.  A type of comfortable where you just feel wholly welcomed.  It’s not enticing in the slightest bit, but it’s easy to take refuge in its covering.

In Biblical times, when someone died the family would all sit in a dark house in silence and light one candle.  Because that’s how it feels. Dark. Desolate. Empty. Silent.

Darkness doesn’t push you to see more, do more, be more, want more, or strive more. It just envelops you, yet never keeps you safe.

It’s a weird thing to me that we live in a world of both darkness and light.  Half the world is experiencing light while the other half darkness, but we’re so used to this that we have found the very transitions of the rising and setting sun to be the most beautiful parts of the day.

It’s a hard thing for me to celebrate light coming into the darkness of the world as Christmas is just a little over a week away.

I don’t get it.  I don’t get why this was Your plan.  I don’t understand the hurt and waiting and the hopeless and the dark.

Generations after generations walked through darkness since the Garden- exile, oppression, silence, darkness.  All of it.

And on the darkest of hopeless nights, following a painful birth in a nasty barn, you quietly whispered, “I am doing a new thing.”

You didn’t come and shine Your light so bright that all the darkness was diminished.  No, the darkness lingered still.  But you entered it.  You entered it, familiarized yourself with it, and felt it.

I don’t know if I’ll ever understand the hard parts.  The broken situations where You could have written the story differently but you didn’t.  But it’s in the darkness of history from the garden to the stable that you were bringing about Christ.

I don’t get why you didn’t come more dramatically.  Why you didn’t put a stark end to the broken and painful.  But you came as small as You could.

Generations of writers wrote of the depths of despair of life apart from You and the need for You and you only came as a tiny little baby and somehow called that hope?  God, we needed a hero.  We still do. 

I don’t think we can truly understand the joy, hope, and light of Christmas coming without knowing the darkness.

The most quoted passage in Isaiah that proclaims the birth of Christ to come begins in darkness,

“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone.  You have multiplied the nation;  you have increased its joy; they rejoiced before you as with joy at the harvest, as they are glad when they divide the spoil.  For the yoke of his burden and the staff for his shoulder, the rod of his oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian.  For every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult and every garment rolled in blood will be burned as fuel for the fire.  For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”

And I think in the same way that the darkness of history was bringing about Christ so the darkness we know is doing the same.

You could have come and stopped it all.  But you didn’t.  You came and entered and knew the darkness, even in ways I never will.

You defeated it, yet left us in it and I don’t really understand why.  Especially this year.  This year when darkness feels more safe and familiar than the light.

Instead, you came and gave us hope.  Not a hope that meant we wouldn’t face darkness, but hope in its truest since.  “An ache for what is to come” as Anne Voskamp would put it.

You came and showed us that the dark and hopeless that we know and feels safe is not all there is.  The very darkness we often have chosen because it has felt more loyal is not the end of our story and it wasn’t the end of yours.

I still don’t completely know how to live in the both and of darkness and light.  How to live in a world classified by two very opposite things is just hard to reconcile.  But I’m aching and believing that is what You are doing.

You are bringing about light in the darkest and emptiest of nights.  And we will long and wait for a light that not only tells us there is more, but it brings it.

Dust

Today, I opened  Microsoft Excel to do a project and soon found myself weeping angry angry tears on my couch.

It’s just not right.  It’s not right that my Dad isn’t on the other side to be able to call when I can’t figure out what I’m supposed to do.  It’s funny how the small things seem to cut the deepest.  You prepare yourself and build up your defenses for the big ones, but the small ones catch you off guard and cut deeply.

I missed being able to call you when I was moving into a new house.  I missed you being here to get everything perfectly set up and organized.  I missed you when I held a baby and rocked him to sleep and thought about what an incredible grandpa you would have been.

Gosh, I hate it.

I hate that there are no answers and only tears and anger and hurt and gaps.

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Big giant gaps with your name written all over it that only you know how to fill with your easy going, steadfast, long-suffering presence.  Your presence that carried a peacefulness that put everyone around you at ease, yet you knew that if you needed the slightest thing you would move mountains without asking questions.

Grief doesn’t make sense.  It doesn’t make sense that angry tears on a leather couch somehow mean progress.

I’ve found myself questioning and challenging everything I’ve ever believed, shaken to my core, and amidst all of it just missing you, your presence, your voice, and the way you saw and knew me.

Today is the start of November.  Another start to another month of another season that you won’t see and I hate it. I’m tired of trying to tell myself to look at the trees and tell myself that death is beautiful because it isn’t.  It’s painful and heart wrenching and it is a deep soul pain that I have felt in the most real and physical sense.

I wasn’t prepared for this.  Every book I read and movie that I watched was a story that involved some kind of conflict or difficulty or hurt but it always ended in resolution.  No one wants to go watch a story of a broken heart that just stays broken, a losing team that just keeps losing, or a Dad that fights with all of his strength for his life and dies a week later.

I’m tired of the mundane.  I’m tired of the clicks and ticks and noises that remind me that time keeps passing.  I hate the word passed.  I’m tired of telling people that you passed.  You did so much more.  You were so much more that you deserve a bigger and richer word.

I don’t get how to make sense of the lack of resolution, how to find a God that knows all and sees all and is in control of all and loves His children in the greyest of grey areas I have ever known.demolition

Even as the words are being formed from my mind to the tips of my fingers I’m telling myself these thoughts aren’t okay.  It’s not okay to not be okay and we aren’t okay with people that aren’t okay.  We aren’t okay with death, loss, grieving, and feelings.  We’re barely okay with someone responding “okay” instead of good when you ask them how they’re doing in the least sincere way.

But as much as stories with unhappy endings make us angry, we don’t know how to enter into our own, better yet the ones around us.  The loose ends confuse us and make us question what we believe and hold to be true.  So we stay away.

But You know my frame.  You remember that I am only dust.

I read these words in Psalm 103 and was honestly kind of offended at first.  Oh I’m only dust?  I am barely surviving by the 20 minute break that allowed me to rush to Starbucks and get an extra shot in my latte to do all that today asked of me and I’m only dust?!

But I am. I am only dust and the only context that my small, small frame has ever known and felt and believed is dust.  The dust that formed the world around me as You spoke it into existence.  The dust that you took to form a man to use his rib to create the woman who would become the mother of all creation, of all that I know, of all that I’ve loved, of all that I’ve lost.  Dust. 

Its make up makes it seem so very small, so minuscule, so inadequate of grieving, questioning, and beating up against all I have ever known.  But that is the very heart of the problem, that all I have ever known is dust.

But you are a God that knows all and sees all and is in control of all and loves His children enough to believe for them when they don’t have the framework that all we have ever seen and known and held dear is dust.  It’s vanishing, dissolving, frail, and messy.  You see us as the child C. S. Lewis describes satisfied making mud pies because she has never known a holiday at the sea.  You lead us by still waters.  You restore our souls because you have given them glimpses of more than the dust we have known.  Like the little pieces of asphalt that reflect and sparkle the light of the sun.  Amidst our mediocrity and inadequacy there are pieces of something more.

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So I’m done clinging to the old and the rugged.  I’m holding fast to believing that amidst the grey and the dust and the emptiness and my frailty, You understand that I am only dust.  But you know there is so much more.  And on the other side of dust and limited glimpses is resolution.  And in the dust, You are still creating.

Small.

Growing up with 2 older brothers will regularly remind you of your inferiority, primarily in terms of physical stature.  For me, this reminder was all the more in my face, and what was in my face was really their collar bones as both of my brothers grew to be around 6 foot and 5 inches tall.

I was always small and easy to throw around.  I always needed help with carrying heavy things and reaching tall ones.  I was the go to one to sit in someone’s lap when we only had 4 seats rather than 5.  I was referred to as “little one”.

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Recently, when my Dad suddenly passed away, I felt the very opposite.  Despite the fact that I was only 22 years old, 2 weeks shy of graduating from college, I was making life or death medical decisions, caring for my Mom in the loss of her husband, filing life insurance claims, and really having to be a big girl.

My mom and I talked about a month after everything about just how old we felt.  I told her I felt that on my birthday (the day my Dad passed away), I felt I had aged at least 10 years.  Nothing about me felt only 22.

But here recently, I’ve felt back in that place of being the shortest, the youngest, and the weakest.  I’ve just felt small.


I read a note a very kind and thoughtful friend wrote me the day after she had sat with me as I cried.  In it she said, “I want you to know you can always be small with me.”

And it’s exactly how I’ve felt.  Last week I moved into a new (to me) house.  I got all of my stuff inside and my family headed home and I had this moment when I had to make myself literally focus on breathing one breath at a time because everything hit me at once.  While I’ve had to be so big, inside I am still so small.  There was no part of me that had the energy to unpack and move in, no part of me that felt capable of managing a house and bills, and I just felt really overwhelmed and really small.

But there’s also a sense of being small I’ll never get back.

You see when you grow up having a Dad like mine, there is something about his presence.  Despite the fact that I always feel like I have to have a plan, keep my ducks in a row, and always make sure everyone is taken care of, with my Dad somehow all of that went away.  I knew he was capable.  With him, my mind could rest because I knew he had it all under control, had my best interest in mind, and would do absolutely anything to keep me safe.

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And I feel small when I miss him.

I feel small when I’m doing laundry and think for a second that something in the dryer is his, when I find a dryer sheet and remember how he always thought it was good luck to find a dryer sheet in your clothes.

I miss the feeling of being squeezed so tightly in his chest and knowing just how very safe I was.

I felt small when I popped a tire tonight and had no clue how to change it.  And I feel too small to go to get it repaired without a Dad to call on the other end to help me know what to do.

I’ve tried to tell myself that I’m feeling small so God can show up for me big, but I honestly feel like He just keeps making me smaller. And smaller. And the moment I start to feel like I have everything under control again, something else hits the fan to remind me that I don’t.

That nothing is predictable.  No part of creation is under my planning or supervision.  I am not in charge of my safety or capable of protecting myself.

So what do I do with that?

I’m learning to be small with Jesus in ways I never have before.
I am learning to stop coming to Him offering Him whatever I can muster up and keep pretending to be okay.  I’m coming to Him weak and empty and broken.

And He hasn’t met me in every empty place.

I know that’s not what you want to hear.  It’s not what I want to be saying.

He hasn’t.  Sure, He has been mindful of it and loved me in it, but there have been gaps that I have felt the depths of.  And I think He stays the satisfaction on this side of Heaven to remind us of the brokenness of the world we live in.  We feel the pain of it to remember that despite the beauty of His presence, it is not our complete healing and satisfaction.  Sometimes there are gaps.  Sometimes I sit in my car and cry because my heart gets broken and it just feels like it isn’t surprising anymore.

I’m learning to be small with other people.
I have fought since I could breathe to have it all together for everyone else.  I needed to be the leader, the front runner, the caretaker, whether or not in the spot light.  I have needed to perform, to prove, to measure up and sometimes the ground underneath your feet gets taken.  And I’ve been stripped of this to the point that I have been lost as to how to even interact with people.  I’ve wanted to keep people safe from the depths of the sadness and scariness of my heart, but thankfully blessed friends have pushed deeper.  I’ve learned that ministering to people doesn’t mean being invincible, but being broken with them.  I’ve learned to stop trying to be people’s Savior and remember just how much I need one.

I’m learning that it’s okay to be small.
I remember my brothers getting annoyed at having to help me sometimes.  They didn’t understand why I couldn’t just take care of myself or why I couldn’t just understand what they did.  I remember feeling so bad and telling myself I would just fake it and be big.  When people asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I said “six feet tall.”  I felt shame for being needy and not being good enough and tried to muster up the strength to function at the same level of my two brothers who were older and bigger.  But you can’t function as what you aren’t, at least not without failure and difficulty.  And I’ve tried to be big and strong amidst feeling broken into a million little pieces.  I’m learning to accept that I’m not called to fill every gap.  And that sometimes, the best way to love and care for someone is for me to allow myself to be exactly where I’m at.

I’ve learned to empathize with moments people felt small in Scripture.
I love that God’s Word is not full of people who were constantly put together, but people who were very in touch with their emotions.  I’ve sat and wept with Hannah on the temple steps for her barrenness to the point the priest thought she was drunk.  I’ve felt the pain of Jacob’s heart when he was brought Joseph’s bloody clothes and told his son was killed.  I’ve agreed with David as he pours his heart out to God saying, “Darkness is a better friend than you.”  I’ve understood where Mary was coming from when Jesus came to town after Lazarus died and she didn’t go to Jesus, but stayed in her house.  And I’ve understood where Martha was coming from when she went right to Him and chewed Him out.

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I’m learning that “you can’t experience full recovery until you let your pain be fully uncovered”.
I’ve wanted to tie this up with some truth or hope.  We like resolution and happy endings that make all of the pain worth it.  The hard part, is sitting in the reality of not having a resolution.  Hard parts that characters of Scripture can empathize with us in, like Job, Stephen, Ruth, Jesus, etc.  I’ve wanted to “hide my crazy” and just be okay.  But you can’t be something you’re not, without failure or difficulty.  Our Western brains have been told to find whatever 3 step system we can to healing, wholeness, and wellness and sometimes the best thing for us is to just allow ourselves to be what we are- small.

Guest blog: Big Girl Move

It feels weird to even introduce you to Mrs. Victoria Love Hughes, because she has always been such a part of me.  Victoria is my closest cousin in age.  Actually, she’s exactly 9 months older than me.  Living in the same small town and going to the same tiny school, the Lord knit our hearts together from day 1 in such sweet ways.  Victoria taught me how to roll my tongue, how to whistle, and how to seek the Lord.  Her friendship, though later distanced when my family moved away, has always been such a sweet one to me.  I pray her words about she and her husband’s recent big move speak to you both about how transitions are the most growing times and how she and Bruce have been faithful to seek the Lord every step of the way.

Moving 500 miles away from your family, your friends and everything you’ve ever known is not something you think about until it becomes a reality. And it suddenly became my reality earlier this year.

The story of our move starts in August of 2014. 2014 was a big year for me, I got engaged, I graduated from college and I had started my first big girl job. It was also a big year for my now husband, Bruce, as he had also gotten engaged, graduated from college and started his first real job—which he hated. Bruce received a degree in Biblical Studies and felt the Lord calling him to ministry, but he was stuck at a call center.

We spent so much time praying for a way to get involved in ministry and the Lord answered our prayer in August 2014.  Bruce got a call from one of his college friends asking him if he wanted to take over his position as part time Youth Pastor at a church about an hour away from where we were currently living. After thinking and praying about it, Bruce decided to take the position. At the time we thought it would be good experience for future ministry and a way to make a little more money for our wedding. We had no idea the plans the Lord had for us at that time as neither of us thought we would ever be involved in youth ministry.

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2015 was a fun year for us— we were newly married, a lot of our friends were getting married, we learned we were going to have a baby nephew and we got to do ministry together as a married couple. In the summer of 2015 Bruce decided he wanted to quit his job so he could focus on ministry and also get his Masters of Divinity. This was a hard decision for us because it meant that we would have to live on my salary (which wasn’t much considering I worked at a non-profit) and his small stipend from the church.

This season of our life was trying, but the Lord was so good to us. Each month we worried we might not have enough money, but somehow we always managed. During this time we learned so much about trusting God and trusting each other. We both grew to love youth ministry, and Bruce was feeling called to full time youth ministry.

This season of life helped tremendously for what lied ahead—2016. After a semester of seminary, Bruce decided that he wanted to switch to getting his degree online and apply for other youth pastor jobs—even if that meant we would have to move. Let me stop here and say that I had no intentions of moving, I loved my job, I loved living near my closest friends and I loved living close to my family. I loved my comfortable life. But as a Christian I knew that God doesn’t necessarily call us to live a “comfortable” life.

Sometimes God calls us out of our comfort zones in order to further His Kingdom.

This is something I knew, but didn’t think it applied to me or rather I didn’t want it to apply to me. I was content living my comfortable life, but God had other plans for me.

On our anniversary trip, Bruce and I talked about what we wanted 2016 to look like. We both wanted to grow in our faith and we both also wanted Bruce to have a full time ministry job by the end of the year. We both also wanted to think of a verse or phrase (or for me a song) to be the theme of our year. My song for this year is “Here’s My Heart” by I Am They:

Here’s my heart, Lord

Speak what is true

Here’s my life, Lord

Speak what is true

The lyrics to this song are what I wanted my 2016 to look like. Here’s my heart and here’s my life, Lord. I wanted to give everything to Him, and that’s exactly what I had to do when Bruce got a call from a church in Kentucky about a youth pastor job.

A few weeks after our anniversary trip, we traveled to Owensboro, Kentucky for the interview. After the interview the church invited Bruce to come back a month later for D-Now weekend to be their quest speaker, and after that we would know if he got the job.  During D-Now weekend we absolutely fell in love with the youth group at the church. They were so welcoming to us and even though we were only there for two days we felt like we really connected with the kids. Also while we were there the entire church had to vote on Bruce becoming the new youth pastor. We had already felt at peace about moving to Kentucky, but when the vote came back as 100% yes we really felt the Lord saying this is where we need to be.

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Let me just tell ya, God is so good. Even though it has been extremely hard being away from our family and friends, we are loving this new season of our lives. We love our church, church family and our youth group kids. Every time we leave a church function, which is almost everyday, one of us always says how much we love these people and we are so thankful for this opportunity!

If there is something in your life that you haven’t let go and given to God, I urge you to do so. Trusting Him with the outcome of any situation is hard, but His plans are so much better than ours. Proverbs 3:5-6 is a verse we hear all the time and can become callous to, but it such a good reminder to trust God with ALL of our heart, not just a little, but all of it because He cares for us and loves us so much that He wants to help us, He longs to help us. All we have to do is let Him.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.

In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.

 

 

Father’s Day

I’ll be taking a bit of a hiatus from the internet this weekend as much as possible.

It’s just too hard, too recent, too impossible to swallow.  And I think that’s how it’s going to be for a while.

Almost 2 months ago my Dad passed away suddenly from a heart attack.  He was truly the sweetest and most selfless man you could ever meet.  It was my 22nd birthday and I was 2 weeks away from graduating, yet there in the hospital none of that mattered as he breathed his last breaths.

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I loved that man with all my heart, as he loved me.  I still do.  He was the most selfless, kind, and hilarious guy.  I would give absolutely anything in the world for one more of so many things- to hear his laugh, to hug him, to hear him say “baby girl”.

I’m grieving all of the ways I’m having to learn to live without him, all of the moments in my future I envisioned him there for that will look different, and all of the memories that make me treasure and miss him all the more.  I just miss him.

I can honestly say that a day has not gone by in the past 2 months when I haven’t thought about him, when I haven’t cried, and when I haven’t felt like my world has been absolutely turned upside down.


There is a big part of me that has a hard time tying any of this into lessons to be learned, because it’s hard to place any kind of closure or conclusion on a hurt that feels so raw and feels that it deserves time to be raw.

But there are two sides of the coin that’s been specifically on my heart this week.

  1. Dads, please love your daughters.

To know me is to know that I deeply loved my Daddy. There were few moments I treasured more than going to lunch with him, seeing a movie with him, or just spending time with him.  I loved doing ministry alongside of him.  I loved watching him love and serve everyone around him so well.

But to know me well is to know that my relationship with my Dad wasn’t always easy.  I was always a Daddy’s girl when I was little.  He was just so captivated by me for no reason at all.  I kind of took advantage of it like any baby girl would.  I remember he got a brand new truck when I was 4 that terrified me because it was so tall.  So to get over my fear, he sat with me in the front seat and showed me how I could press all of the buttons on the radio.  All of his programming was reset and I was sold that I could ride in this big, scary truck after all.

But as I transitioned into being a teenage girl- a dark and scary journey- our relationship became all the more strained.  I blamed him for some issues in my own heart and he had to prioritize some things going on at work and we eventually reached a point that we weren’t even on speaking terms.  It’s hard to imagine now.

But I remember being wrecked by it.  I was so mad at him and so hurt by him, yet desperately craving a relationship with him.  And my Dad, being the loving, selfless guy that he was, talked with a staff member at our church and began pursuing me.  He wrote me letters about what he loved about me.  Things I never thought he noticed.  He found things we could do together and we did them constantly.  He gave me space to talk about ways I was hurt by him and he cried and told me he loved me.

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The thing is, you don’t have to be perfect to be a good Dad.  In a lot of ways, you just have to be there.  And please don’t give up.  Go to her games and recitals and look up from your e-mail on your phone.  Ask her how her day was at dinner.  Spend some time with some of her friends.  Your presence and your interest in your daughter’s life can truly make a world of difference.

The unfortunate truth is that we truly don’t know what tomorrow holds.  I watched my Dad fight for his life on a ventilator for a week until he breathed his last breath.  Despite the fact he was completely brain dead, he fought to keep breathing, until the exact moment I turned 22.  There is something innate inside of you that is roaring to love your little girls.  Don’t let it be stifled by work, busyness, pride, or unforgiveness.  Love her with all you have with all the time you have.

2. Absence teaches you a lot of things.

I never imagined to face an absence this real and this final so soon.   I selfishly would do anything in the world to reverse it.  But it has taught me so very much.

This past year I’ve focused greatly within the context of my job on “identity in Christ” and the concept that we are “image bearers” of Christ (Genesis 1:27).  I’ve said the phrase a million times and talked about how cool it is that we were created to reveal God.

This idea has truly become extremely tangible for me in the past 2 months as I’ve thought of all the ways I bear my Dad’s image.  I don’t exactly look like him.  I kind of look like my mom spat me out.  But gracious, does his personality come out in me more in more.  We are type A to the core, passionate about responsibility, always aware of time and scheduling conflicts, and always talking to ourselves while we work.  I’ve even grown to love the way my ankles sometimes pop just like his did, walking on hardwood floors.  I value these things and seek to resemble his humility, love, and passion to those around me because carrying on his legacy is so very important to me.

It wasn’t until now that I’ve felt not only the honor but the demand to be an image bearer not only of my earthly father but my Heavenly Father, carrying His character to a world that I want to know Him.

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Beyond this, absence magnifies the space that was once filled.  There was nothing about my Dad that was small.  He was a tall guy with a big heart.  He had great big eyes that welled up with great big tears whenever you shared anything with him.  He didn’t do anything small, whether it was loving and serving our family, our Church, or a stranger he came into contact with.

From this big absence, I’ve only come to know and wrestle more and more with just how much we were created for presence, for God’s presence with us in the garden, for the presence of the people around us, for death to never exist, and the grave to never be necessary.

But above all of this, absence makes you treasure.  You treasure what you miss and what you long for.  I treasure my Dad’s generosity and compassion.  I treasure his ability to fix absolutely anything.  I treasure his ability to make me laugh.  I treasure that I had a family for 22 years that was whole.

Absence has taught me that no one has resembled Jesus more to me than my Daddy did in loving me, caring for me, providing for me, protecting me, and relentlessly pursuing me.

Dad’s, you are one of the greatest image bearers of God in your children’s lives.  The week my Dad went on to be with Jesus, my whole family got tattoos of his last recorded heart beats.  I got mine on my right arm in the exact spot where he would have held my arm to walk me down the aisle, should I get married one day.  But right in the middle of those words, I had the word “faithful” written in cursive.  My Dad has truly defined faithfulness for me.  As I was writing his eulogy that I delivered at his funeral, I honestly had to go back and take the word out a couple times because of just how fitting it was.  He was faithful to give his all at work.  He was faithful to serve in the Church.  He was faithful to sacrificially love his family.  He was faithful to honor and love his wife.  He was faithful to always put a smile on your face with a terrible joke he would belly laugh delivering.  He was faithful.

If I’m honest, believing God is faithful has been one of the absolute hardest things for the past 2 months.  It hasn’t really felt true at all.  But if God claims to be faithful and it means anything comparable to the way my Dad was faithful, then I can trust it.


I would give anything for another Father’s Day with him, or any day really.  But as much as my Daddy fought, this was a lack I had to feel and a hurt I had to bear.  And it is one I know I would have never had the strength to face, had my Dad not strengthened me by his love and his presence.  And one I could have never faced without the strength and presence of my Heavenly Father whose image He somehow allows me to bear in my weakness.