On mile markers, giving up, and learning to love my neighbor.

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I.

So, it seems that I have somewhat accidentally started a book club, birthed from the sentiment that if you want something and can't find it, you should make it for yourself. Tonight, I'm meeting with my friend Emily, who happens to be the groups coordinator at our little church, to discuss the particulars, but starting in mid-September, my Thursday evenings will consist of homemade food and dog eared pages with friends both old and new.

Honestly, I didn't have much say in the matter. Within five minutes of my bringing it up to Emily, she took the liberty of inviting two people. Then, of course, there's God, who, in his unrelenting pursuit of me and my busted up heart, has been kneading answers into my prayers and asking me to do hard things when it comes to growing community and blooming where I'm planted. I told another friend that I'm both excited and scared: this feels a bit like going off the deep end, but more like taking back ground from the devil. Where those two meet up is always the starting line for good ideas.

Besides, if you ask me, the best church services happen in living rooms over chips and salsa.

II.

The last thing I wrote here was about soul-hospitality, and the kind of revival that can only come through vulnerability and offering up the messiest and most fractured pieces of myself. I penned those words for a laundry list of reasons, the gist of which added up to the fact that we've lived here for a year now, and I don't feel any closer to what my heart knows that church and community should be. The past twelve months have seen me weary and worn down from spinning my wheels and living a try hard life.

I had all sorts of plans to fix myself. I would lose the weight and buy all the cute clothes, find quirky wall art and construct a Pinterest worthy gallery wall, market my blog like a pro and gain lots of followers, toss more money in the offering bucket at church, volunteer more. The truth is, I’ve been picking up whatever fig leaves I can find in an attempt to look more whole than I actually am.

The paradox is that it is only when I lay down my masks and become more fully myself that there can be less of me and more of Jesus.

The most potent truth of all is that what I'm really missing is Jesus. There have been days, some more recent than I care to admit, when I have begged him through sobs to show up. It isn’t that I haven’t been looking for him all this time. I’ve just spent my entire life looking for him in all the wrong places. I believed I would find him within the realm of my own comfort and safety.

Suffice it to say, he has rarely, if ever, resided there. And slowly but surely, he is tearing down my walls, meeting my resistance with loving kindness.

III.

The other day, the man and I were talking about church, both our little body and the body collective. Hesitantly, I admitted that for all the things that keep me wrapped, there are also a handful of things that I desperately wish were different.

I wish there were easy answers for how to navigate community with broken people. Most of the time, I'd settle for somewhat difficult ones. But Jesus wasn't known for showing up with blue prints. Instead, he turns everything we think we know on its head. Because he knows that the deepest need of our hearts isn't a formula -- the deepest need of our hearts is him.

And then, he put some skin in the game by offering himself.

He met people smack dab in the middle of their mess, unafraid of getting his hands dirty and not the least bit intimidated by the second mile.

He touched the sick, broke bread with whores, and called cheats and liars and back stabbers his best friends. And when I begin to catch glimpses of my own heart in the folks he chose to spend his time with, it changes everything.

IV.

I don't mean to make a big production out of a simple ladies' book club. I'm not parading around under the assumption that it will somehow change the world, I'm simply praying that it will change mine.

I'm tired of the rat race, exhausted from seemingly endless days spent pining for the approval that is already mine. And anyway, the last thing I need is gold stars and applause (though let's be honest, I crave them like an addict).

No one needs my formula and ten point plan to better myself -- least of all, me. So I'm giving it up, leaving it on the side of the road so I can better walk in step with Jesus, loving as he loves.

 The kind of love that doesn't give up on broken things.


I was graciously given an advanced copy of my friend Shannan Martin's new book, Falling Free: Rescued From the Life I Always Wanted. I was not required to write a review, but upon finishing it, my heart couldn't not share it with you. Reading her words felt like breaking bread with a trusted friend, the kind that dares you to leave your comfort zone and loves you enough to not let you get away with making any excuses. What's more, she cheers you on, acknowledging that it isn't always the biggest leaps that count the most, but the baby steps taken in faith. When you walk away from an encounter with someone who has been with Jesus, you're never the same. Shannan is one of those people for me. You can preorder her book Falling Free today, or find it on a shelf near you on September 20. And if you're curious, we will most definitely be reading it for the book club.

A Few Favorites from the Bookshelf

favorite books I have always been a reader. Ever since I was a little girl, rather than watch television or go shopping, I would pick up a book, often reading it from start to finish in a single sitting.

So I thought I would take a few minutes to share a few books that I have loved over the past few years. Today happens to be very snowy, so I have some time on my hands. And I have to give credit to Shauna Niequist, who shared a few of her favorite books on her blog and gave me the idea.

A Million Miles in a Thousand Years. Donald Miller has taught me so much about faith and authenticity. He writes A Million Miles with humor and humility, telling the story of how his life came to a stand still after writing a bestselling memoir, and how he wanted his life to tell a better story.

One Thousand GiftsAnn Voskamp's prose is some of the most beautiful that I have ever read. If you have not read this book, please, let me encourage you to pick it up. In One Thousand Gifts, Ann searches for the beauty in what looks ugly and the holy in what feels heartbreaking, and invites you to do the same. This book has been particularly comforting to me in this season of my life, as I have watched a couple of my friends walk through some really awful valleys. But seeing the gift and choosing gratitude really will change your life.

Daring GreatlyI love Brené Brown's humor and honesty in light of her work on vulnerability. She speaks with such an air of humility and makes you feel comfortable from the very beginning. She is also incredibly encouraging, as she writes that being vulnerable isn't being weak, but rather, that vulnerability is our greatest means to connect in meaningful ways.

A Million Little WaysI have loved Emily Freeman ever since I first started reading (in)courage and her blog, Chatting at the Sky. I began reading her first book, Grace for the Good Girl, and loved it -- but A Million Little Ways just took it to the next level for me. Emily writes that everything about the way you live your life is art, and at the heart of it all, is the Artist who designed our souls with love and care and pleasure.

Blue Like JazzThis is Donald Miller's bestselling memoir about life and faith, which he writes with incredible humor and humility. I've always found Don's work to be very approachable and honest. This was really the first book that I had ever read that talked about faith in such an authentic way.

Eat, Pray, LoveI love writers who are honest, and Elizabeth Gilbert is no exception. When her life falls apart, she knows she needs to make a change. On something of a whim, she picks up her life and spends a year traveling throughout Italy, India, and Indonesia, searching for herself, but also for God. I wouldn't necessarily call this a Christian book, but it is very spiritually oriented and an excellent read.

A Million Little Pieces. This book would definitely not fit in to the Christian genre. It has graphic sexuality and drug use in addition to a lot of language. I knew there was some controversy surrounding whether or not James Frey fabricated some of the details in this memoir, but honestly, I love it. It is a story about overcoming. I picked it up at a used book store and read it from start to finish in about three sittings. It is written in a very stream of consciousness style, and there is very little punctuation, so it takes slightly more attention. Observation: For some reason, I really like books with "A Million" in the title. 

The Desire MapI believe I first became acquainted with Danielle LaPorte through Lauren Dubinsky's blog. I watched the trailer for this book in late 2014 and knew that I had to read it. Danielle argues that goals are great, but what we really want is the feeling that we associate with the goal. She guides you through discovering how you really want to feel in your life, and encourages that it is okay to try different and new things in order to feel the way you want to. Let me clarify: I don't think feelings should always be our dominant source of guidance in life, but I do think that they are incredibly important and that we should pay attention to them.

Well, there you go: a peek at some of my favorites on the bookshelf. This certainly is not an exhaustive list. And I'm planning to share some favorite musicians soon, too.

What is your favorite book and why do you love it? Leave your answer in the comments below.

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What I've Learned and What I'm Into: December

What I've learned:

1. Time flies. More specifically, six months of marriage flies. I think this is a realization that can only come with age, and the relentless pursuit and collection of people and moments that make your soul feel full. Craig and I have laughed and shared more in the last six months than ever before. I would marry him again in a minute.

2. I am more prepared for my job than I originally thought. After two weeks of training on the keys to child welfare, there was so much I found that I already knew how to do, which is really exciting given that I recently asked my boss if I was qualified to send a fax to a doctor's office for a child's medical records.

3. Confidence comes with experience. With number two in mind, no amount of book knowledge can really prepare you for this kind of work. You have to go out and be willing to go out and get some dirt under your nails. So far, I have driven out to several home visits with my supervisors or coworkers, and sat in a court room to watch a case unfold that would have been appropriate for Law & Order. Also, I stayed by myself in a hotel for two weeks for training. The longest I had ever been away from home and my husband.

4. I love my coworkers. There is just something about this office and the people in it. Typically, the turn around rate in social work is through the roof -- but most of my coworkers have been here going on ten years. They are some of the most encouraging people I have ever met. One might also get the impression that social workers are incredibly serious, but the whole building is full of jokers, and a day does not go by that we don't laugh about something together.

5. Generally, things are much less scary than I make them out to be. Like staying in a hotel by myself for two weeks, or  my first solo visit with a foster child who is, shall we say, not low risk.  Everything anxious in me leads me to believe that things are going to turn out horribly, when time and time again, I am reminded that the Lord is in control.

6. My bank is super on top of things. Like security breaches after I shopped at Target. It had barely reached the news that Target's database was hacked when I received a phone call from our bank saying that my information had potentially been compromised and that they were going to cancel my current debit card and send me a new one.

7. Don't put too much emphasis on the blog statistics page. Numbers are not everything.

What I'm reading:

Blogs:

"How I've Taught People to Treat Me Differently," by Allison Vesterfelt.

"When Christmas Stretches You," by Ann Voskamp.

"I Know Close to Nothing, but I Believe in These Things," by Hannah Brencher.

Books:

"Grace for the Good Girl," and "A Million Little Ways," by Emily Freeman. [Sidenote: I fly through most fiction, but when it comes to books that really challenge me, it could take forever to finish. Especially recently, I have tried to be much more intentional about reading slowly and prayerfully.]

What I'm laughing at:

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What I'm watching:

Craig and I don't actually have cable, but during my two-week hotel stay, I managed to catch The Sound of Music with Carrie Underwood. I generally don't have a problem with Carrie or her music, though I'm not an avid fan of the country genre. I only have this to say: if Julie Andrews did it right the first time, there's no sense in trying to do it over again.

and finally...

What I'm listening to:

https://play.spotify.com/user/1227646053/playlist/4XLlhfnhbipR5tkypmIi7f

Top posts of 2013:

Dear Church, I'm Still Here.

Note to Self, but also to You.

This is not an open letter.

Linking up with Emily Freeman for "What I Learned," and Leigh Kramer for "What I'm Into."