Blizzard Prep

We’re expecting a ridiculous snowstorm tomorrow, so all of my plans for today were put on hold while I crammed three days of getting stuff done out in the world into one. I hope to post a full blog tomorrow (in between shoveling & chasing THIS DOG as she gallops through the snow). For now I thought I’d share three books you might like if you’re enjoying our adoption story. You know, in case you’re snowed in tomorrow, too :)

Reading is how I process things, how I figure them out. When some new subject catches my attention, the first thing I do is go get every memoir I can find (along with a novel or three) so I can see how other people handled the challenges. Here are three different perspectives on foster care & strangers-as-family that earned a permanent place on my bookshelf:

This book is just so good. I reviewed it here and could not rave about it enough. I love stories where the grim parts aren’t sugar coated and the happy ending feels earned.

If you help foster kids in any way, this book will reassure you that everything counts and you are making a huge difference, probably way more than you realize.

 

A YA novel about a girl in foster care – it sounds sad, but really isn’t.  #2 Cherub told me about this one – she’s read everything in the genre – and this did not disappoint.

I love how it reminded me that kids in foster care are KIDS, with the same array of everyday life questions, dreams, ambitions, and goals as other kids.

 


This one’s a heartbreaker, but in the best way. It’s not about foster care. It’s the memoir of a young woman who moves to a new city and meets a woman from Somalia, along with her five daughters, on a bus.  Her descriptions of the woman’s struggles to learn American culture and survive are compelling.

 

Stay warm! And if you ARE someplace warm, please send pictures! :)

Celebrating The Good Moments #1

EARLY Sunday morning, I saw a post from my friend Stephanie Elliot  on Facebook that inspired me to ditch the whole second half of my sermon to make room to share the story of how she handled years of rejection and disappointment in her writing career.

Her book comes out today :) 

I know Steph in real life (if you’re a longtime blog reader, you may remember this road trip from Chicago to Wisconsin in a tornado with my friends Manic Mom & Swishy? Manic Mom = Steph!) She overcame SO MANY NO’s to get to this very big YES in her writing career. She inspires me with her perseverance. She understood that if anyone was getting their books published, then it was possible for her, too. And here she is!  I’ll be waiting out on my porch all day for my copy of  Sad Perfect to arrive. It’s YA, a hardcover book for just over $10, and has GREAT early reviews. Looking to escape into a good story with a personal connection? You should click over and grab a copy, too. Congratulations, Steph! xoxo

On a related note…Lent begins tomorrow!

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In He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not, I devote a whole chapter to my first experience of Lent and how pivotal it was early in my faith. There have been some rocky years since then, but this year, our church is reclaiming this observation as an opportunity to take a chance on God once again. If you don’t have plans for Lent, join us!

Everything you need is on the Greenhouse Mission Site:

The Study Guide tells you a bit more about my experiences with Lent, as well as how we’re approaching it this year through three traditional practices: Bible Study, Prayer & Fasting. You can do these on your own, or with friends. (I do better with the buddy system to keep me afloat, but it works with just you & Jesus, too.) Each week we’ll post a Weekly Bible Guide  with links to the daily reading, along with some thoughts on the passage and ideas for prayer. There will also be sermons you can listen to, book recommendations, and – God willing – some cool testimonies of what God is doing in our lives. I hope you’ll join us from wherever you are (and I mean that both geographically and spiritually :) )  Let me know if you’re joining in, and how it’s going. It’s good to cheer each other on and believe together.

(Looking for today’s Adoption Answer? It’s here, in a second post!)

 

Made Well by Jenny Simmons

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Made Well: Finding Wholeness in the Everyday Sacred Moments by Jenny Simmons

This book was a highlight of my summer. It is so honest, real & encouraging. These are the words I wish I’d had five years ago, back when everything collapsed like so many endless dominoes, back when I wondered how on earth I could keep believing in a God who stood by and let so much be ruined. I sat down on the couch to read it, and didn’t move for the next 27 hours. (Okay, that’s not exactly true. But that’s what it felt like. I was immersed in this story, and that eager to get back to these hope-filled pages.)

Jenny Simmons has known some ruin, and her words are that rare mix of honesty, encouragement and knowing. She writes heartache so well…but then she captures the moments when redemption comes: how it’s real and surprising, and how God really can make us okay again, even when okay seems completely out of reach.  She blows past platitudes and easy conclusions, and yet somehow I ended each chapter feeling encouraged, even with stories that didn’t wrap up neatly. This is what Christian books and music need now, and I hope this will be on the cutting edge of a new approach to writing about faith, showing how God is very much alive and at work in the middle of even the biggest loss and devastation. She put words to my experience of God coming through, and I’m so grateful to have experienced this book. (Also, Jenny is really funny. Thank you Lord, for Christians with a sense of humor…)

This is the second book of Jenny’s I’ve had the chance to read – I’ll post to her first book here, too, because after you read Made Well, you’ll want to circle back to The Road to Becomingthe story of how she figured out how to build a new life after her band, Addison Road, stopped touring and recording after 10 years together.  (And if you didn’t know about Addison Road beforehand, you have another treat ahead of you.)

Basically, reading Jenny Simmons has lead to much wonder and delight in my life. I think it will do the same for you. Pre-order Made Well (that helps authors SO MUCH in the publishing world), soak up this wisdom, laugh with her, and ponder the truth: that in the midst of the chaos of life, we are both well made and made well.

Thank you, Jenny Simmons.

(And thank you to Jenny’s publisher, Baker Books, for giving me the opportunity to read Made Well before it’s release date in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Report

In the midst of a CRAZY couple of months, I’ve read some good books. Some offered wisdom, others stirred up my imagination for how things might really work, and a few just let me escape for a few hours. Here’s a rundown in case you’re looking for something to read as we head into summer:

GRIT: THE POWER OF PASSION AND PERSEVERANCE by Angela Duckworth. I expected to like this one because I’m hearing about it everywhere, but I didn’t expect it to prompt an immediate change to my daily routine. There’s a lot to like in these pages, but my personal takeaway was about the power of a certain type of practice – where you have goals that are a bit beyond your capacity, keep track of how you practice each day, and look for outside help to get better.  Highly recommend.

WAKING THE DEAD: THE GLORY OF A HEART FULLY ALIVE by John Eldredge. This was a re-read for me, prompted by a friend who shared how a retreat led by Eldredge helped her through a really thorny patch in her life. I hadn’t realized how deadened my heart had become from so many years of loss and stress. This book helped me recognize the dead-ness and believe for resurrection. Such powerful stuff here. I’m going back through all the sections I underlined and asking God to heal those broken places. If you could use some help getting back to abundant life, this is a good one to read.

THE VERITAS CONFLICT: A NOVEL by Shanti Feldhahn.  And imaginative look at the spiritual battle over Harvard. A fast-moving plot held my interest, and I was intrigued by this attempt to show how angels and demons intersect with our everyday human lives. Fun to read, especially if you have a connection to Cambridge. Now that our church meets in Kendall Square, I’d love to see a similar story set at MIT.

DISRUPTED: MY MISADVENTURES IN THE STARTUP BUBBLE by Dan Lyons. Dang, this guy is funny. This is a grim, hilariously sarcastic look at the tech bubble from a former Newsweek writer who worked at Hubspot. It’s billed as “old guy works in hot young startup,” but the book goes way beyond that basic premise.  If you’re connected to tech, this is worth a look.

SPIRITUAL SOBRIETY: STUMBLING BACK TO FAITH WHEN GOOD RELIGION GOES BAD by Elizabeth Esther.  I expected this to be a memoir, but it’s more of a 12 step program for people recovering from cult-like or abusive religious situations. It’s not a light read, but I think it will be a helpful, hopeful resource for many people as Esther shares what she’s learned about moving forward.

And Here are a couple of books I’m looking forward to:

IN TWENTY YEARS: A NOVEL by Allison Winn Scotch.  I love her books.

HOW TO SURVIVE A SHIPWRECK: HELP IS ON THE WAY AND LOVE IS ALREADY HERE by Jonathan Martin. I don’t know much about this guy but I’ve heard good things.

Three Books That Surprised Me

It’s been a reading bonanza here this week. I took a chance on three books recommended by different sources, not sure I’d be that into them. How much fun is it when you’re wrong? These books were helpful, entertaining, and made me feel good about God, people & life. Prepare to be surprised :)

First, Finding Church: What If There Really Is Something More? by Wayne Jacobsen.  Jacobsen posits an end to the institutional church. Okay, that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but not much. There’s no way for me to do this wise book justice, but it’s filled with thought-provoking reality checks about how much closer we get to God through relationships rather than organizations and programs.

This dovetails exactly with how Steve & I have been thinking about the overlap between adoption and church planting. For example, research shows that children placed in foster homes learn to respond to people – looking to different relationships for help, wisdom, guidance, etc. – whereas children placed in group homes or other institutionalized settings learn to respond to programs and systems, which is far less effective. This is equally true about faith. The evidence is convincing that we all do better when learning and growth come through relationships rather than programs.

Jacobsen reminded me of the power of deep, Jesus-focused relationships: friendships that happen naturally and grow and develop over time around this one unifying pursuit. Living this way can be chaotic and messy, but is ultimately redemptive because God knows how to sort out our messes.

I’m not convinced that we need to completely abolish meeting weekly as a church, or during the week in groups to pray, consider the Bible, etc. (particularly here in greater Boston – if something isn’t a recurring event, it takes three weeks to find a time to get together with someone). But I love the way he prioritizes relationships over programs. I’d recommend this book to anyone who feels like church has become a second job because you’re there 20+ hours a week doing programs and classes.

Next, Angel In Aisle 3: The True Story of a Mysterious Vagrant, A Convicted Bank Executive, and the Unlikely Friendship That Saved Both Their Lives by Kevin West.  This is a feel-good read. West was under indictment for bank fraud and awaiting trial when he met a seemingly homeless man named Don who wandered into the small grocery store where he was working. Don brought heavy doses of scripture-based encouragement, and a wisdom that surprised West. The story is VERY black and white in terms of West admitting his wrongdoing and taking responsibility for his actions – it’s clearly writing for a conservative Christian audience that might not be very forgiving. Which is sad, in a way, because this is a story about grace showering down over these two men and their families, and grace can handle whatever we throw at it. This is a book to grab if you’re looking for a pick-me-up.

And finally, the biggest surprise of the bunch, Strong and Kind: And Other Important Character Traits Your Child Needs to Succeed by Korie Robertson. I reviewed one other Duck Dynasty based book and it was terrible. Trite and simplistic and “we’re all fine here.”  This one had way more to offer. It’s a parenting advice book, and I got some good tips here that I put into action right away (I used one – a way to nudge a fibbing child toward honesty – approximately 30 seconds after reading it.) Robertson  has a strong voice, a good use of humor, and thankfully doesn’t delve too heavily into the whole redneck thing that feels like such a facade, especially for her. My favorite part of the book is Robertson’s willingness to parent her children, rather than trying to be their friend. She and her husband (whose essays pop up in various chapters) seem very secure in their role as the adults. That’s a refreshing change, especially as an adoptive parent. My kids don’t need me to fret about their self-esteem or help them identify their emotions. My kids need me to model a functional life where things happen in an orderly way and it’s safe to be a kid because the parents are being grown ups.  The Robertsons just announced that they’re adopting another foster child (this will be their third adoption) so I suspect some of this has influenced their parenting style. I recommend this book for Moms looking for reassurance that you can be loving, tough, and have clear expectations for your childrens’ character.

Disclosure: I received copies of Angel in Aisle 3 and Strong & Kind from their publishers in exchange for an honest review. I purchased my copy of Finding Church. 

Unexpected and fantastic read

UnknownI started Midnight Jesus with a bit of trepidation – I guess I was expecting one of those justice books that suggests that everyone should be just like the author.

Wow, is this not that.

Author Jamie Blaine is a musician, church psychotherapist, and assistant manager of a roller rink. He describes each of these parts of his life with a balance you rarely find, and it’s fantastic to watch how he wrestles with practical needs (like making a living) with the opportunities God presents (being the midnight psych ward crisis response guy, managing the roller rink). He somehow sews it together into a coherent whole, while remaining cognizant of what he’s missing out on by living such an unorthodox life.

But the heart of this book are the people Blaine meets – most of whom are at rock bottom. I’m not sure how to justice to how great his writing is here, how he shows respect for people without sugarcoating the depths of their despair. He doesn’t have answers. Let me repeat that: He doesn’t have answers. He shows, rather than tells how the story of Jesus intersects with the story of us, and it’s incredible.

It took me a few chapters to get into the book, because the tone and writing style (not to mention Blaine’s general approach to life) are pretty different. But this doesn’t seem like affect – one gets the sense that this is just who he is, rather than something he’s adopted to stand out in some way.If you’re looking for a good read, I highly recommend Midnight Jesus.

Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. 

Book Review: The Heart Led Leader

51CBF7QnENL._SX332_BO1,204,203,200_I am such a fan of this book. It’s shot through with inspiring stories and great points, and stands head & shoulders about other books I’ve read with similar themes. I appreciate how the author defines “leading by the heart” in terms of deep caring, sacrifice, and wise encouragement (rather than the traditional model of scattershot praise and fluffy esteem-building).  He somehow balances a focus on bottom-line results with big-picture concepts like passion and legacy. It’s such good stuff.

One of my favorite chapters was on leading with Passion. Towards the end, he points out that the Greek word for passion means “to suffer.” “When something matters so much to you that you’re willing to suffer to see it succeed, that’s passion. It might come with pain and sacrifice, and it almost always comes with hard work, but it never comes without joy.” I appreciate how candidly he connects these two things, reminding us that suffering and joy aren’t mutually exclusive.

I found so much here to help & inspire me, especially in my newest leadership role as an adoptive parent.  I teared up as I read an anecdote about what the author’s first boss responded after he whiffed a big presentation: The boss sent him back out the next day with an unexpected chance to try again, and said, “It’s important that we make mistakes. That’s how we learn and grow. Just don’t make the same mistake twice.”

I want to post those words in bold font on the wall in every room in my house.

This is a great read for anyone who leads anyone. (By which I mean, pretty much everyone.)

Disclosure: I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Three Books & What They Mean to Me This Week

It has been a fabulous reading week for me. I’ll tell you about three books I’ve loved, and then a bit about what I’m trying to do with what they’ve taught me. Consider it part of Project Stretch & Grow. (Which is not actually a project, but makes me smile when I think of it that way.)

UnknownOut of Sorts: Making Peace with An Evolving Faith by Sarah Bessey.  While the title makes this sound like a memoir of frustration with God and His church, it’s anything but. Open these pages and you’ll find a love letter about the tiny ways God has lead Bessey over and under, around and through the challenges of a grown-up faith.  Her writing style is so warm and inviting, it made me want to fly to the far end of Canada to sit with her on her porch and drink tea. And I don’t even like tea.

The other thing that made me love this book – and her – happened when she mentioned John Wimber and I discovered  that she’s part of my tribe. She’s a Vineyarder, too, part of the “happy clappy” group of us who believe that God still acts today, that everyone who wants to gets to play a part in bringing His Kingdom here to earth, and that it’s not really a church service unless a third of the people are moved to holy tears. (Seriously. We cry a lot. It’s a strange Holy Spirit thing you learn to make your peace with and be grateful for whoever stocks the tissues.)

Whether you consider yourself happy-clappy, agitated or agitating, or in need of a hug and a good cry, this is a wonderful book.

51jWSQj3EuLWherever the River Runs: How a Forgotten People Renewed My Hope In the Gospel. I’m not sure how I found this book but I’m so glad I did. I started it yesterday and I’m almost finished – it’s that good. Minter shares her story of an unexpected trip to the Amazon (the river, not the corporate conglomerate) and how seeing pastors serving the poor there forced her to rethink her life back here in the U.S.

There are lots of “Third World Missions Trip” memoirs, but a few things set this one apart. First, Minter goes back to this place year after year. She didn’t just collect a few pictures for her Instagram account and call it a day. She is invested in specific people with whom she has long-term relationships. She knows what questions to ask each year when she returns because she knows people well enough to care about their individual lives.  Second, she didn’t come back to the States to jettison all her belongings and live some sort of Poster-Child, “look at me” life. Her consideration of the differences between these two parts of the world are far more nuanced and thoughtful than I’ve seen before. I really appreciated her honesty. And finally, she’s just such a wonderful writer…it sounds cheesy to say, but the book reads like a smooth trip down a fragrant, vibrant river. It opened my eyes and soothed my soul, and made me want to live a better life.

Unknown-1One for the Murphy’s: A Novel.  I read this book at #2 Cherub’s recommendation. She is a voracious reader, with a strong preference for what she calls “realistic fiction.” I’ve learned that to her, realistic means kids in impossible situations: foster care, severe disability, inability to perform basic life skills.  She has great taste in books, and I’ve learned to trust her recommendations, even though (or perhaps because) they take me places I might not otherwise go.

One for the Murphy’s is the story of Carly, a girl who has been taken into foster care and is arriving at her first foster home. It is gripping. The author captures both the intense stress of Carly’s situation and the everyday normal things she’s wrestling with at the same time. (I mean, how weird is it that we expect kids who’ve suddenly been placed with complete strangers to still take the scheduled math & vocabulary quizzes the next day?) The great thing about this book is that Carly is a sweet, relatable protagonist – you’re really rooting for her – and her foster mom is one of the good ones.  I’m so glad I read this book, even though it made me cry at the end. If you’re looking for a glimpse into this world, One for the Murphy’s is a good place to start.

***

As I mentioned yesterday, this is a season of effort and stretching for me. I feel like these books are challenging me to recognize that there’s still this whole big world rotating while I’m staring at my freezer wondering what to make for dinner. And there are ways I can interact with this world – practically, spiritually, intellectually, emotionally – even as I feel the boundaries tightening on my little corner of the Universe.

-There are kids in foster care who are waiting to be adopted. I can look at these pictures and pray for these children individually – for their “forever families” to come soon and be awesome, and also for whatever tests they might have in school later today. And I can shout from the top of the internet rooftop what a HUGE blessing it is to have welcomed two middle school kids into my family.

-There are people around the globe sorting out what Jesus’ promise of abundant life means when you have no home and very little food. I can ponder Kelly Minter’s wise observation that “If the good news of Jesus’ Gospel is only good news in America, than it is not good,” and ask God to recalibrate my perspective, even as I click on the keys that send some of my resources their way.

-And somewhere out there, there’s a 20, 30 or 40-something woman who, like me, senses that God might be trying to tell her something and would love help figuring out what that means and how to respond. I was blessed to have a community of people willing and able to help me, and now I can help make that happen for others. (Here’s the quick version: if you’re near Honolulu, Hawaii, you can find a community, and some of the same people who loved me, here. If you’re somewhere else, try here and see if God leads you to a group of people singing songs, praying, and holding boxes of tissue.)

I want to use my words and my life to point to God’s Kingdom as it pops up here on earth, and say, “This is for you, too! It’s for all of us!”  It sounds grandiose…which is why I’m grateful for these books, and how they remind me that in real life, this happens in a million small ways. My goal this week is to add a few to the pile.

***

Disclosure: I received a copy of Out of Sorts from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. I obtained Wherever the River Runs & One for the Murphy’s from my local library. I’ll be asking for all three of these books for Christmas, because they’re ones I want to own.

Love for Accidental Saints

I know I rave about books a lot here – I tend towards the jazz hands side on the review scale of life (Which is essentially: Ballet = “I found this to be a quiet, but important, read;” Modern Dance = “this book is weird;” Jazz Hands = “OMIGOSH I WANT TO HAND THIS TO YOU PERSONALLY RIGHT THIS VERY MINUTE!!!”) This tendency leaves me feeling a bit like The Girl Who Cried Wolf right now, because Nadia Bolz-Weber’s Accidental Saints: Finding God in All the Wrong People is ALL the dances: it’s the important, weird book I want to hand to you personally right this very minute. I can imagine some part of it appealing to you, no matter who you are.

UnknownMy favorite chapter is called “The Lame.” In it, Bolz-Weber describes how, as she wrote her first book, her editor pushed her to describe why she’d been such a pissed off kid – how she’d suffered from an autoimmune disorder that caused her eyes to bulge out of her face so far that her eyelids could not even close.

“Absolutely not,” Bolz-Weber replied.  Then she tells us about what she learned as she wrote it:

“Of all the inelegant things I wrote about myself in that book,” she says now, “–publicly admitting imagesto drug use, alcoholism, deceit, sexual indiscretion, misanthropy, and pretending to be a hero–the pain and alienation of my childhood was the one thing that made me think, If I tell this, I may die. If I show the encasing under the tattoos, no one will again believe that I am cool.”

Writing this made her realize: it was never the people attracted to her “cool” persona who stayed at her church. It was the ones drawn to the bug-eyed kid she used to be, the with no friends who ate her lunch alone in middle school.

I read that and wrote in the margins: “They’re not drawn to her cool or her uncool. They’re drawn to the path between the two. She’s transformed.”  

I’m not sure I’ve seen a better collection of real stories of transformation walked out in daily life. If you need encouragement that it’s possible (even if you’re pretty sure that YOU’RE fine, but know all these OTHER PEOPLE who could use some transformation) read this. You’ll want to cry when you’re done, but in a good way, because you’ve been reminded that all the things are possible.

 

Book Review: Rejection Proof

51SlGpIED9LThis was SUCH a fun read!

Rejection Proof: How I Beat Fear and Became Invincible Through 100 Days of Rejection, is author Jia Jiang’s account of what happened when he decided to overcome his paralyzing fear of rejection by going toward rejection rather than running away from it.  Jiang set out to be rejected in a new and different way each day for 100 days. He blogged about this, and posted videos of his various encounters, one of which went viral after an employee of Krispy Kreme didn’t reject his request for a custom donut in the shape of the Olympic rings, but merely asked him to give her a few minutes to figure it out.

Sounds a big gimmicky, right? So my expectations of this book were in the “mildly entertaining” category. Wow was I surprised. Jiang’s account has unexpected depth. He’s honest about what drove his fear of rejection and gives the reader the sense that you’re right there with him as he jumps into these challenges and then evaluates what he learns. Rejection Proof has so many “underlineable” observations that I just kept a pen with the book the whole time I was reading. There were many “a-ha” moments and things I hadn’t considered previously, and several of this quotes have stayed with me.

Early in the book, Jiang writes, “When you are not afraid of rejection and it feels like you have nothing to lose, amazing things can happen.” But rather than tout our culture’s usual approach to this (Just BE fearless! Shake it off! Don’t let it get to you!!!) Jiang dissects rejection and tries a variety of different approaches to see what changes things–both his own perspective and his interactions with others. This is interesting, helpful stuff. Highly recommended.

Disclosure: I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.