Phil Wickham “Children of God” Review

Are you a fan of the song “This is Amazing Grace” and the latest hit “Your Love Awakens me”? It is Phil Wickham‘s gifted songwriting and hip voice behind these and other great songs, including his newest album released this year, “Children of God”! Wickham’s music has a unique sound like nothing I’ve heard on Christian radio, so I was excited for the chance to review his latest!

Let me tell you, this album had me at “hello.”

Children-Of-God-Cover-1500x15001

“Children of God” by Phil Wickham Released 2016

The first song on the 12-song album is the Doxology/Amen, a modern, heart-opening arrangement of the original doxology with the addition of a very simple and worshipful chorus. If you know my household’s fondness for the Doxology (read more HERE), then you know I cannot resist this song. And talk about powerful lyrics…as Wickham adds a verse that sings:

“Praise God for all that He has done; Praise Him for He has overcome; The grave is beaten, Love has won; Praise God, our Savior, Christ the Son.”

I mean, if his voice sliding up the notes of “the grave is beaten, Love has won” doesn’t fill your heart with praise, NOTHING will!!

And I have to say, mixing the old with the new is so fun and brings the tradition of a great song into the present for some who would otherwise be resistant to hymns. Kudos for breathing new life into the Doxology, Phil! But enough about the first song ;). (Because I truly could go on and on about the Doxology, in any format.)

I have to say that I really love Phil’s voice. It is unique and modern and young. His music is upbeat and cool. And the songs on this album are easy and catchy, a great soundtrack for a sunny day trip!

And there’s a reason “Your Love Awakens Me” is quickly becoming as popular as “This is Amazing Grace,” which topped the radio charts as BMI’s Christian Song of the Year and was the “most-sung worship song in the North American church” (Christian Copyright Licensing International). (The rest of this review is continued beneath the video link below 😉

As a cool backstory to this album, in 2014, Phil was unsure he would ever sing again when doctors discovered a polyp on his vocal cord. Through this time of uncertainty, he felt God reassure him that his identity was not in what he did, but whose he was–thus inspired the title of his album.

The title song is really gripping too!

“We are believers…all our hope in the Risen One. We are soldiers…we’re fighting with faith and love. We are pilgrims…on a journey to reach our home. Standing together, WE ARE the children of God.”

AMEN.

Isn’t it great to know we all struggle with identity, but yet God still knows us as His? His creation. His masterpiece. His children. His to hold, protect, love and keep. Forever.

And to that I say, PRAISE GOD FROM WHOM ALL BLESSINGS FLOOOOOOOW…..

So thankful this talented artist was able to continue his career as a songwriter and worship leader. Please consider purchasing this great CD! Links below!!

Official Website – www.philwickham.com

iTunes: smarturl.it/PW-COGiTunes


Amazon: smarturl.it/PW-COG- Amazon

Spotify: smarturl.it/PW-COG- Spotify

 

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Bearing Witness Book Review

It’s difficult to imagine a world where one loses his life for his faith. But we know it exists. And we are reminded of it with headlines that feel too medieval to be true. Of course that world and the everyday world of the average American Christian don’t often rub up against one another. The irony of this was not lost on me as I drove my son home from gymnastics and glanced at this book, Bearing Witness, perched on a stack of Sunday School papers and fast food wrappers on the passenger seat of my mini-van.

Bearing Witness Cover

I mean how can we possibly understand such sacrifice in a culture so intent on putting leisure, pleasure and personal happiness above everything? So I opened the first pages of this book, not knowing what sort of read it would be. Or if it would feel too foreign or frightening.

Bearing Witness: Stories of Martyrdom and Costly Discipleship presents interesting stories that certainly offer perspective on our first-world church problems. And I think it helps so much to remember there are Christians who have suffered throughout history.

I feel it is also important to note that Bearing Witness is a collaboration of stories about Anabaptists, so non-violence is a central theme. I had some rather strong reactions to certain views taken by the author(s) or by the individuals spotlighted, which may vary, of course, from reader to reader. But if you are Anabaptist, you may find this book particularly inspiring!

On the first page of each chapter, a sketch of a globe presents you with the setting for each story. It is always eye-opening to see how many tyrannical governments and people have existed over the years and across the world. It was a small visual reminder to appreciate the freedom to worship I can so often take for granted in my own country.

This book reminded me people still can and do suffer for believing and preaching the Gospel. And, really, our compassion should extend to all those who suffer for their beliefs as we are called to both awareness and action on their behalf. We are also called to preach the Gospel to the ends of the earth, no matter the cause. ALWAYS easier said than done.

If you would like to purchase this book, click HERE or visit the social links:

www.Facebook.com/PloughPublishing

www.Twitter.com/PloughBooks

Official Website for Plough

Disclosure: Many thanks to Propeller Consulting, LLC for providing this prize for the giveaway. Choice of winners and opinions are 100% my own and NOT influenced by monetary compensation. I did receive a sample of the product in exchange for this review and post.
Only one entrant per mailing address, per giveaway.  If you have won a prize from our sponsor Propeller / FlyBy Promotions in the last 30 days, you are not eligible to win.  Or if you have won the same prize on another blog, you are not eligible to win it again. Winner is subject to eligibility verification.

 

 

“90 Minutes in Heaven” Book Review & Giveaway

Yesterday marked six months since my brother passed away. I still must remind myself often that he is gone.  And my mind has been wearing a well-worn path over the same questions for months. Where is he? What is he doing now? I have been giving a lot of thought to Heaven–not the idea of Heaven as some caricature of puffy white clouds and slightly bored cherubs strumming harps, but the reality of it–a place of extraordinary beauty and peace where my brother has been reunited with God.

In the book, 90 Minutes in Heaven, Pastor Don Piper describes how Heaven made him feel: “I was home; I was where I belonged. I wanted to be there more than I had ever wanted to be anywhere on earth. Time had slipped away, and I was simply present in heaven. All worries, anxieties, and concerns vanished. I had no needs, and I felt perfect.”

90 Minutes Cover_FINAL.indd

The story of his near-death encounter began when Pastor Don Piper’s car collided with a semi on January 18, 1989 and emergency workers pronounced him dead at the scene. An hour and a half later, after a desperate prayer from a passing stranger, Piper came back to life. His book is a straightforward first-person narrative in which Piper dedicates two chapters to describing his time in Heaven. He also shares the journey through his painful recovery and reflects honestly about the spiritual and emotional letdown of getting a rare glimpse of heaven only to end up back on earth. His story reminds us that God’s plans are bigger than anything we could understand or imagine–even the darkest and most painful parts of our stories. It’s a message my brother believed with his whole heart.

A full-length film based on the book is set to release this Friday (September 11, 2015) and stars Hayden Christensen and Kate Bosworth. Visit the official website for information and showtimes! The movie was produced by Giving Films, a new non-profit that plans to donate ALL film profits to charities in the U.S. and around the world. The list of charities includes Hope International, World Vision and Christian Alliance for Orphans, among others.

To win a copy of this book, you can enter the drawing HERE. The movie edition of the book includes a new preface from Don, true stories from readers and a section with is favorite verses and quotes. (Paperback, 245 pages)

Comment with your thoughts on Heaven and go see the movie!

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Disclosure: Many thanks to Propeller Consulting, LLC for providing this prize for the giveaway. Choice winners and opinions are 100% my own and NOT influenced by monetary compensation. I did receive a sample of the product in exchange for this review and post. Only one entrant per mailing, per giveaway. If you have won a prize from our sponsor Propeller/FlyBy Promotions in the last 30 days, you are not eligible to win. Or if you have won the same prize on another blog, you are not eligible to win it again. Winner is subject to eligibility verification.

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Love in the Time of Anxiety

Valentine’s Day is upon us, which means cloyingly sweet treats and cards with even more cloyingly sweet messages of undying love have lined the registers since the Christmas decorations departed. For weeks now, every time you bought groceries, you were assaulted by visions of cheery pink and red tins of candy, bright flowers, balloons and cards practically shouting at you: “Buy me, you dutiful slave to consumerism, or incur the wrath of your significant other for not validating this Hallmark holiday wrapped in glitter. Buy me!!!! Buy meeeeeeeeeeee.” *The final “Buy me” in a low, gravely, menacing tone*

And that is romantic love in a nutshell. At least the way it is packaged. Glittery on the outside, but full of empty calories and hot air on the inside! Do I sound like a cynic? Maybe. But I know that when love settles, it looks different. I know that when love says “I do,” it means “I will” endure all things. And that is a different animal altogether.

 a href=httpswww.flickr.comphotosepsos6180907719epSos.dea via a href=httpphotopin.comphotopina a href=httpcreativecommons.orglicensesby2.0cca

Real love has grit. Photo courtesy of Photo Pin

If you are married, you’ve probably walked some messy roads with your spouse. And you, too, are aware that while that brand of love doesn’t sell so well in stores…it IS the real thing.

It’s easy to love when everything is shiny and new. What effort does that really take? But to love when it hurts or requires sacrifice…now that is much harder.

A friend recently shared with me her sadness over hearing several stories of infidelity among married couples she knew. “I think it’s our age,” I responded. “Our season of life…we’re not fresh off the boat anymore. Most of us are no longer newlyweds. Many of us have kids. It’s hard work. And some people look for ways to escape when things get tough.”

What happens when the landscape of your lives shifts? One income looks different from two. Your thirties looks different from your twenties. Life with children is different from life without children.

But if love is to last, it must survive through all seasons, not just the easy ones.

Real love, the kind that survives the years and decades of life’s changes and challenges, feels like work sometimes. It’s laundry and dishes, caring for kids, working long hours on little sleep, discovering and rediscovering your spouse’s weaknesses, feeling shock or betrayal or, at times, loneliness. But it is loving regardless.

The other day, I had an anxiety attack. If you struggle with anxiety, you know these are paralyzing. It had been a while since I had been so consumed, but like a sudden terrible and oppressive wave, it covered me in darkness. My mind raced, my fears burst open like a sky full of storm clouds. My fight or flight response lit up. I lost hours to panic. Hours. The day ended, and my body ached. My heart ached. I felt ashamed and empty.

A few days later, sitting on the couch across from my husband, I looked into my lap and told him…”I’m scared. I have so much doubt about so many things. Being a good mom. Taking care of my house and my family…” The list went on. And then Sam did something we don’t always do…because like so many people, we want to reason our way through the difficult times. This time, he offered to pray. His prayer was a powerful prayer. Truly. And his words, along with God’s Spirit, thawed away the sadness and shame I was feeling. I recognized this as one of the greatest acts of love my husband could have offered me.

He could have easily said, “Woman, you are being unreasonable. You are wrong. You’re making my life difficult. Get over yourself.” But he didn’t. He came alongside me and prayed for me.

Sometimes I hate that love is so messy. I would rather be a princess from a childhood fairy tale after the prince has rescued her and taken her for his bride. I don’t want to tend to the wounded. Or be wounded myself. It is humiliating.

I don’t want to wait for miracles. Or give more of myself when I feel exhausted. Or make dinner…again. I want love that is effortless. I want things my way. I want perfection.

One of my favorite photos from any wedding is the one where the couple, declared husband and wife for the first time, nearly dance down the aisle arm and arm on a cloud of happiness. It is an image, beautiful and full of joy. But it is also a fragile veneer. Because while they turn to face the world as two people newly united and shining with promise, they aren’t yet aware of the adversity, temptation and disappointment they will face over the years. Sometimes they will feel like a shell of what they once were. And that is when they will discover they are only as good as their unwavering commitment to God and one another in the best AND the worst of times.

Whatever you do for Valentine’s Day, remember that “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:13) It is our real sacrificial love for one another that bears the image of God’s infinite love for humanity. That happens when we stay…despite the desire to flee. It’s when we give…despite the overwhelming urge to take what feels rightfully ours. It’s when we love at a time love feels like the last thing we want to do.

Real love doesn’t always sparkle. But it can shine. It can produce brilliant, beautiful things from the pit of our deepest, darkest failures. Real love stoops down to dress our wounds and comfort our bleeding hearts. Real love gets messy. Real love has grit.

Put that inside your Valentine’s Day card, Hallmark.

Thank you, Jesus, for your real love.

And to my Valentine, Sam, thank you for weathering the storms of life with me. May we always know and value real love.

Photo credits: href=httpswww.flickr.comphotosepsos6180907719epSos.dea via a href=httpphotopin.comphotopina a href=httpcreativecommons.orglicensesby2.0cca

Part 2: On the Outside Looking In…The Blessing of Rejection

Soooooooo about that rejection you’re feeling…how could it possibly result in blessing?

I love the passage in Matthew 10, where Jesus commissioned His disciples for ministry and warned them about rejection. His advice to them is a bit shocking coming from the guy who also commanded us to “turn the other cheek.”

Barefoot

“Shake off the dust…” Photo Courtesy of Free Images

Jesus told them, “If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet. (v. 14)” Jesus was urging them NOT to waste time where they weren’t wanted. Perhaps because he knew the disciples would struggle for acceptance the same way we do.

Have you ever tried to foster a relationship with someone who was not ready to receive your love or friendship? Or who was too busy being critical of you?

It might be easy for us to look at one biblical example like this one to justify always walking away when we feel rejected. But Jesus provided other responses to rejection as well–all quite different. For example, and I am skimming the surface, when the Pharisees questioned him and his ministry, Jesus used everything from silence to strong words as his response. Then there was his ultimate act here on earth when he allowed rejection to take Him to the cross.

“He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem…But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:3, 5)

Jesus’ offered responses to rejection on a case by case basis. And because he was Jesus, they were always perfect for the occasion. As deeply flawed human beings, on the other hand, our responses are also often deeply flawed. But I think we can take away at least two things from his example. First, there are many (right) ways to respond to rejection. And second, that it is only through the power and leading of the Holy Spirit that we can know how to navigate each rejection scenario as it presents itself in our lives. (Because we know that it will…See Part I of this series)

I love what Jesus also said in that same passage in Matthew as he prepared his followers for ministry: “As you enter a home, give it your greeting. If the home is deserving, let your peace rest on it; if it is not, let your peace return to you. (12-13)”

So many times, when I feel rejected, I don’t let peace return to me. After wrestling and pondering and trying to fix the relationship(s) or prove myself worthy, I am still not at peace….especially if it seems my efforts have been wasted or, worse, misunderstood. At some point, we have a choice about how to accept the limitations of a relationship or situation. We can allow it to disturb us deeply, or we can do as Jesus instructed and take back our peace…no matter what the outcome.

As it did for the disciples, rejection can redirect us, re-chart our course…in a positive way. If we believe God can redeem any situation, then we must believe this…that rejection can be a blessing in disguise:

Rejection can protect us. Looking back, there are several situations where I wish I would have taken Jesus’ advice to shake off my sandals and leave. I wish I hadn’t wasted valuable time where I wasn’t wanted or appreciated. But, thankfully, I eventually got the hint. And later I realized that rejection was God’s way of closing a door I couldn’t quite close on my own.

For example, there was a woman I started a friendship with at a time I was struggling to find close friends. I was so excited for this friendship until, suddenly, it fizzled out. I never knew why. It bothered me for months. A few years later, I discovered some things that would have made our friendship very complicated and could have affected my family negatively. I truly believe rejection was God’s way of closing that door at a vulnerable time in my life.

Rejection can expand our world. In a very practical way, one home’s rejection would lead Jesus’ disciples to other homes and towns. Rejection can do the same for us. It can not only change our course, but broaden our perspective and our world.

My mother gave me great advice once when she told me…find the girl who feels like you. When you feel rejected, seek out others who also feel rejected. And really that is what we should be doing as believers, seeking out the rejected among us, not making well-worn paths with all the people who agree with us and give us that familiar sense of comfort.

Comfort feeds apathy. Imagine if the disciples had stayed at the same home forever because they felt loved and accepted. Their ministry would have ceased to exist. They would have stopped following Jesus’ command to preach the Gospel!

By the way, it is completely counterproductive to find those other “rejected” people and sit and wallow and lick our wounds together. Though it is tempting to say, “Can you believe how rejected we are? Can you believe what those other people did to us?” Yes, I have responded to life’s rejection this way. But isn’t it much better to find those people and, together, model the kind of love and inclusion you wish to see in others?! What a beautiful way to redeem a disappointing situation!

Rejection reminds us we walk among the wounded. We’ve heard it many times: Hurt people hurt people. Wounded people look to strike before they fall victim again. Do you know someone like this? They become hollow and angry. While it is easy to become defensive and distrusting, it doesn’t help.

If we step back from a situation that has wounded us and recognize the other person was bleeding first, the situation becomes a lot less personal. In this way, God can teach us too look beyond the offense and straight to the need, which is where real ministry can happen. I still haven’t consistently figured this out for myself. I would much rather pull away and resent someone for their abusive behavior than love them as God calls me to love them. But when we can do the latter, it is a true miracle that brings about powerful change…if only in us.

Rejection can teach us REAL love. Contrary to the popularly accepted notion that inclusion and tolerance equal love, they aren’t the same thing. There are plenty of situations where we refuse to accept something about someone…but we don’t stop loving them. This is probably the hardest kind of love, but it is still necessary. And we are called to do it. Jesus loved those who betrayed him, persecuted him, beat him and nailed him to the cross. Real love, the kind without strings, doesn’t just happen. It takes work. And discipline. And the power of God in you. But it IS possible.

For every abandoned child, every lonely man or woman and every bullied and battered soul, God offers a refuge. He offers something better if we allow our rejection to lead us to Him. His perfect plan didn’t include these bitter rejections. But sin collapsed the beautiful harmony of Eden and sent us spiraling into darkness. The whole world aches with longing for love and acceptance. God allowed His son to walk through the worst possible rejection…all the way to death on the cross…to provide the only true way to freedom and acceptance in the arms of our Creator.

There are rejected among us…everywhere we go. If we pray for deeper understanding and greater generosity toward others, loving them without the expectation that we will get something in return, then we do what Jesus did–we take rejection and turn it on its head. We give love the chance to win, and we allow our pain to become a blessing to us and to others.

If you enjoyed this post, but missed Part I: Here it is!

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Part I: On the Outside Looking In…When We Feel Rejected

We aren’t on the playground anymore, but feeling left out doesn’t always sting less just because we’re older. Even into adulthood, there are plenty of opportunities to feel like you’ve been picked last or, worse, not picked at all. Sometimes the people we love the most reject us. They misunderstand or judge us, and we feel the distance. That can be the hardest form of rejection to accept…

Accepting rejection. Hmmmmmm. Now, that’s a thought. Because rejection is going to happen. And we can’t force inclusion…as much as the hounds of political correctness try. So how do we accept it?

Rejected

Ever feel this way?

The hard part about rejection is that when we are standing on the outside looking in…it can bring up that negative narrative in our minds that we aren’t good enough. And such a narrative may be very rehearsed for us, because we have carried it around our entire lives, like a mixed tape from an old boyfriend we just can’t seem to throw away.

A dear friend reminded me this week that feelings of unworthiness and rejection can become so familiar they bear a strange comfort for us. We can use them as a security blanket when we want to lick our wounds.

I’ve shed my share of tears over feeling rejected, but I’m also learning some powerful things about it. Because if I stop feeling sorry for myself long enough to learn something, I find that being rejected can sharpen instead of cut me.

First, it helps to remember that Jesus was rejected. As that same dear friend reminded me the other day, Jesus has incredible compassion for my hurt feelings. He loves me and embraces me. But more than that, he understands. Because he was rejected, not just at the cross, but throughout his short life on earth.

It also helps to ask some heart-searching questions about rejection and the role it plays in our lives, like:

Why is “being accepted” or “included” so important to us? (This may apply generally or it may apply to a very specific situation.) Well, we’re human. So there’s that. But could it also be that we are placing acceptance and inclusion above other things that matter more? For example, I am experiencing an area of rejection in my life from people I have always sought to please. BUT, part of that rejection comes as a result of choosing to live independently of their approval. It stings when I feel they don’t understand or when I am on the outside looking in, but I have made the conscious decision to please the Lord first. Sometimes the desire for approval pulls us into all manner of dysfunction, because we would still rather do the wrong thing than feel the sting of exclusion. But this will almost always result in compromises we regret later.

Is it a relationship worth mourning? As children and teenagers, inclusion feels necessary at all costs, because we think being on the outside says something about us. But as adults, we begin to understand that rejection does not need to be personal. In fact, it often says more about the other person than it does about us. Sometimes we are so busy wondering why someone is rejecting us, we don’t stop and consider whether we should really care. I mean, why mourn a relationship with someone who doesn’t accept you or appreciate you for who you are?

Have we spent too long nursing our hurt feelings? I know the sting of rejection. And I’m not saying those feelings aren’t real, but at what point will we decide to stop giving them so much time and energy? It is difficult, because feelings surface, and that safety blanket is always within arms reach.

A few years ago, when I struggled with being included in a circle of friends I thought I rightly belonged, I wasted a lot of time questioning myself and them and then pacifying my feelings. Self-pity felt better than making some important decisions that would have stopped giving the situation so much power in my life. When I finally let go of my need to nurse the hurt, God revealed important aspects of this particular rejection that taught me a great deal about myself. (More on that in Part II of this post series…)

Is inclusiveness always realistic or necessary? All-inclusiveness works well on a cruise. But we can’t always expect people to be all-inclusive. Besides, not all exclusivity is unjust or harmful. Countries, governments, cultures, families and close friendships all have aspects of exclusivity that are healthy for survival. Our marriages, for example, are pretty exclusive. And we consider that a good thing, because it is!

Don’t misunderstand me. I believe, especially as Christians, we should not be exclusive in our dealings with others. God warns us against favoritism (see yet another future blog post). A church body (which is made up of individuals!) should be warm and welcoming to all types and not exclusive in their fellowship. BUT, we cannot force inclusiveness. We can only encourage it by word and example.

But then there are still those deep, heartbreaking kinds of rejection that should NEVER happen. And yet they do. Because we live in a fallen world. Many people were driven to the feet of Jesus as the result of devastating personal rejection. The woman caught in adultery. The demon-possessed man. The little children the disciples hushed and scolded. And Jesus was a the perfect example of loving inclusiveness.

I think it’s important to note, Jesus had a band of twelve close friends, so from his example we learn that the opposite of exclusivity is NOT the elimination of close relationships. It’s forging those close relationships while also making ourselves available to others. Jesus engaged and accepted anyone of any social or economic status, gender, age or situation. And his inclusiveness extended to the cross where he died for ALL…even the worst of sinners.

Feeling rejection on whatever scale can begin a beautiful process of learning how to courageously and compassionately model God’s brand of inclusiveness to others. When we stop nursing our own hurt feelings, throw away the safety blanket of unworthiness and allow Jesus to teach us the better way of dealing with our pain, we can find freedom and wholeness. We can begin to accept that we won’t always be accepted! And rejection loses its once powerful grip on us.

For Part II of this series: Go here!

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If you like this post, please share it with friends via email, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, etc. Just get it out there! 😉

I would love to meet you on Facebook (Jessica Fisher) or on Twitter @jlaurelfisher.

 Also, click on the follow my blog option for email updates!

We’re Going on a Bear Hunt!

We’re Going on a Bear Hunt!

So, another year is here, and resolutions abound! Or perhaps we are too sophisticated for resolutions in this post-post-modern world. I usually enjoy making resolutions, but find it harder and harder to do these days. I can have the most well-developed to-do list. And … Continue reading

The Lion Called Fear

The Lion Called Fear

With Halloween upon us, my sweet son is starting to learn about monsters. Even those monsters and ghouls we think are benign can be terrifying to a child who is just learning the world is not as safe as he … Continue reading

Part II: A No-Good, Very Bad Day…Is Okay

Part II: A No-Good, Very Bad Day…Is Okay

About four days after my no good, very bad day last week, I was getting ready in that unceremonious way mothers do: Sweeping hair back in a hasty ponytail, washing my face with a stale washcloth, brushing my teeth for less … Continue reading

Part I: A No-Good, Very Bad Day…is Okay

Part I: A No-Good, Very Bad Day…is Okay

It’s true. Some days just suck. I know there are a lot of very optimistic people out there shaking their heads at me right now. She’s not very grateful, they’re thinking. They’re right. Today, I’m not grateful. I know I … Continue reading

Facebook Blessings?

Facebook Blessings?

We all recognize, in varying degrees, the potential evils of Facebook – its addictive nature; the opportunities for flagrant self-promotion vis-à-vis loads of “selfies” and gratuitous oversharing; the persistent temptation to compare your real life to someone else’s happy Facebook fairytale … Continue reading

Mom and Jesus

I’m not a big fan of Mother’s Day, but I am also not cynical (or selfless) enough to expect nothing from it. That’s right, I want my big Hallmark holiday, and I want it in a BIG way. But like Valentine’s Day, the day dedicated to acknowledging motherly devotion  is completely ill-conceived from the beginning. And I will tell you why.

As liberated as we like to think we are, just who is it that spearheads nearly all holiday festivities? Women, more specifically, mothers. So Mother’s Day is like expecting a great Christmas after telling Santa and all his elves to go home, kick off their shoes and relax. IT SIMPLY DOESN’T WORK.

My mother still makes me feel loved on special days, but now that I’m a mother – a shift has occurred. I am setting the tone for my own family’s holidays. I am the one without the days off.  It can be, if not exhausting, then completely terrifying, especially considering all my mother has been to me over the years. I have some pretty big shoes to fill.

I remember, in a middle school essay, praising her for being selfless “all the time.” One peer edit in incredulous purple ink questioned, “Really, ALL the time?!?” Indignation rose within me, but I forced myself to acknowledge the reality – no one is selfless ALL the time. Most people aren’t selfless MOST of the time.

But, my mother isn’t like most people. She is pretty darn selfless.

Could I be as selfless as her? I certainly wasn’t feeling selfless on Mother’s Day. I was thinking, This is MY day. Make is special, or die trying! I mean, if I am honest, I want to be recognized and appreciated. I desire validation…and regularly.

But the thing about motherhood is we are not here to be recognized or be lifted on shoulders and carried through the streets with cheers. We are here to serve and be worn to the bone. Mothers do things so many things so many times over that go largely unnoticed. It’s the part of motherhood that scares me the most – the constant giving and serving – without applause and sometimes without a break.

Before my son’s second birthday party, my mom washed my floors on her hands and knees. How many times had my mother washed floors over the years, and I never noticed…even on Mother’s Day? But that day, I noticed. Because I was pouring myself out in the same way for my son – cleaning the house, decorating, wrapping gifts, making party favors, baking the cake. I was pouring myself out as my mother did for me. It is the truest devotion, isn’t it? The willingness to be poured out again and again until you are gone.

I realize people caution, Make time for yourself. Take care of you. There is truth to that. But when you are a parent, you realize a perfect balance is impossible. And while you are unprepared for the challenge ahead, you are equally unprepared for the desire within you to give of yourself OR the joy that comes from loving your child like Christ loved (still does love) you.

Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friend.” (John 15:13) Or wash their floors. Or make their food every day, three times a day. Or wipe their bottoms. Or kiss their boo-boos. Or read them the same book a thousand times. Or wake with them at night. Or hold them when they’re sick or sad. Or listen to them talk when you’d rather have quiet. There’s more than one way to lay down your life. As a mother, there are probably a million ways.

Like my mother before me, I am walking the road Jesus did. I am placing one foot in front of the other. And I am surrendering a little more, every day, my need for applause.

The Loneliness of Motherhood

Motherhood can be singularly isolating. Sure, there are play groups, play dates, church, preschool and gymnastic classes. But conversation with other mothers is so often reduced to whatever chatter prevails over the noisy din of children at play – and that ain’t much. So much of what we say or want to say gets interrupted, paused, forgotten – as we pretend to joyously partake of plastic vegetables, sip air out of cracked tea cups, facilitate snack time and encourage sharing, then stuff cranky children in car seats, exchanging hasty plans for our next get-together as we pull away. I’ve yelled more things out a car window these days than I care to admit.

Gone are the days of long, penetrating conversations while slowly sipping lattes. Gone are the questions like “What is my purpose in this world?” “What is going on in your life?” “How are you…really?” I miss it…some days I miss it desperately.

Today, much of my deeper dialogue with friends must occur over the phone, because we can clean or prep dinner while we talk. Multitasking diminishes some of the guilt brought on by trying to fill one’s own relational needs. Yet, phone conversations are still wrought with frequent interruptions as we take turns responding to needy children (made instantly needier by the mere fact we are on the phone).

I enjoy all the opportunities to mix and mingle motherhood provides. And I am thankful for this season of my life. The community of moms is vast, varied, interesting and held together by the strand of procreation and the act of raising children into responsible adults (an altogether complex undertaking made up of a million simpler, sometimes nearly mind-numbing, tasks).

There are days, in the center of some conversation about meal preparation or sleep schedules, I’ve suddenly had enough. I don’t want to discuss the best sippy cups on the market or what Johnny had for lunch that gave him loose stool. I want an uninterrupted exchange of ideas and thoughts and feelings that has absolutely NOTHING to do with breastfeeding, potty training or how to make gluten-free granola. Other days, we are stuck at home due to weather or illness. I am pouring over dishes when I’d rather be pouring my heart out over that latte…with no time limit and no other things on my to-do list. I feel lonelier than usual.

But relationships are not simply about what we get out of them. Relationships are what we give. The mommy dialogue, the one where we exchange recipes and ideas, is necessary and helpful. I would be foolish in overlooking the benefits of community with such amazing and incredibly diverse women. It’s good to talk about finger foods and pregnant celebrities. It’s also good to build and nurture relationships that feed deeper parts of ourselves that still exist, despite the repetitive nature of our present everyday lives. We honor this need by first acknowledging it and then by fostering close, authentic relationships with other women — not just with women we’ve always known, but with new friends. We cultivate these friendships by looking past the busy, self-sufficient veneer and asking the harder questions…and by setting the example through our own authenticity. I can be the first to offer the truth about myself – that I don’t have it all together, that I sometimes miss the things I used to do. Or I can share what I am passionate about beyond the four corners of my child’s universe.

Prayer helps. When we lift our hearts to God, we surrender our loneliness and embrace communion with our Creator. And we can pray for friends who will challenge us in new ways. Several times now, I’ve had a chance-meeting with another mother who I liked so much that I yearned for her friendship. But I wasn’t sure I would ever see her again. Then, within a day or two, I did see her again in the most unexpected place. Whenever this happens, God’s love for me overwhelms my heart. He knows my intense need for special friendships, because He created me. This small act of “coincidence” is His love letter to me. “Jessica, I know you. I love you. I’m on it.”

Reading His Word also helps to provide spiritual and intellectual food when we feel starved for deeper meaning. Scripture reminds me of the bigger picture and emboldens me to reach outside my comfort zone. Chances are, there are other mothers who feel like I do. Maybe I can minister to them in their loneliness. Every person we meet, after all, is an opportunity to see God at a different angle. When we begin to see everyone this way, there is no opportunity, no conversation too small. And our focus is no longer on our own loneliness anymore.

In this season of busy chaos, we will sometimes still feel alone. But God knows. He cares. And He’s on it. In the meantime, keep having interrupted conversations over the din of noisy children. Some day, we will miss that too.

Notes from A “Hot Mess” (Yours Truly)

Here is my confession in black and white. I am a “hot mess.” It is a term used frequently by a close friend of mine, and I love it so much I have adopted it as part of my own vernacular. Sadly, I find myself using it the most when describing, you guessed it, myself.

What exactly is a “hot mess,” you might ask? Well, the Urban Dictionary describes it first as “a person who is a handful, a piece of work, a colorful character.” My definition of the phrase is slightly different – as definitions of this kind can be manipulated to serve ones own purpose. My own definition describes my perpetual state of being as one that neither looks or feels in control…of anything…ever…and thus says and does things that others find strange, embarrassing or even irritating. Someone who doesn’t truly fit into our commercialized culture that insists on outward perfection. Someone who can’t seem to get her poo-poo together.

I realize that I am a round peg in a world (or culture) of square ones. I go punching into life with a lot of “ouches” and “ughs.” Some people find it endearing. A lot of other people find it annoying. I have tried to become more organized, punctual, eloquent and graceful – not all at the same time, of course. (Baby steps, people!) But sometimes it seems like the more I try, the more I frustrate myself with a growing list of perceived failures.

I want to be thankful for all the individuals in the universe who, at least on the surface, don’t appear to suffer from this state of being. Most of them are Type A personalities who find a way to manage their lives, so that they are not, well, messy. I wish I didn’t drive them all crazy. But sometimes, I secretly like that I do, because after a while, they really grate on me too. Why are they so much better, because they were born with the organizing gene?

Call it heredity, a mental disturbance, A.D.D. — but, my hyper-hot-messiness is not going away. Sure, I can learn skills for organizing and keeping better track of all the details. But I will never completely change. I will never THINK like “them.” It will never come second nature. And I have tried to fake it. To fake that I am that detailed person. Or that I am capable of keeping all the balls in the air. But it’s not long before the ruse is up. So here is my question – why am I always seeking to be the opposite of a “hot mess” – calm, controlled, organized, tactful…oh the list goes on. Why is it so hard for me to embrace my true self? The one that feels a little like Charlie Brown’s “Pig Pen.”

Maybe, because the world doesn’t celebrate differences like it should. And maybe our culture likes the Martha Stewart types. Everywhere I turn, a magazine, newspaper or talk show offers me new rules for living a Type A life as if we were all meant to put down roots there. The world seems full of tips for color coordinating your sock drawer, hyper-alphabetizing (I made that word up) your media collection, labeling your kitchen utensils and clutter-proofing your house. What if I believe life wasn’t meant to be as tidy as a Lysol commercial, even if it were possible?! What if that isn’t what turns me on? I know some people love doing these things. Great, clean and organize all you want, but I don’t want to adopt all your rules for living. I can’t. And if I did, I would probably break them in, like, two minutes.

This is simply the tip of the iceberg for us hot messes. There are many definitions of this state of being for which I would think every one of us could relate (even Martha Stewart). But today, I wish to celebrate all the hot messes, like me, who couldn’t lead Stepford lives if their very lives (and those of their family members) depended on it.

I would like to step out and claim my hot messiness as a gift and not as a curse. I do so via the imaginary Hot Mess Anthem (a publication that is neither bi-monthly or monthly but rather…sporadic at best). Anthem headlines boast things like “How NOT to Use Every Free Minute Cleaning While Life Literally Passes You By” and “How to Win Friends and Influence People With Your Fun Personality and Great Sense of Humor Instead of Your Manicured Hair and Perfect House.”

Here are a some hot mess rules on various topics lifted from the latest installment of the Anthem (it’s imaginary, People, roll with it). Take a walk on the wild side with me…

Tip #1: There is no reason to color coordinate anything except what you are wearing right now (and even then, some days, that is also optional).

Tip #2: If you show up late and feeling like a hurricane entering some social gathering, smile and be glad you made it at all. There are worse things in the world – like an actual hurricane.

Tip #3: In the olden’ days, most people had dirt floors. There are several morals to this story, but I will leave you with this one for now: If your tiled floor doesn’t sparkle constantly, you will somehow survive. And survive, you do.

Tip #4: When you don’t want to do a full clean, do a half clean. By this, I mean the bare minimum. That’s right, wipe it down with a Clorox wipe, and be done with it. And don’t tell me you “just can’t stop at that” – get off your high cleaning pedestal – you have been feeding yourself that lie for years until you started believing it was true. Too many Lysol commercials – I am cutting you off!

Tip #5: (And this is a good one) A little clutter makes mean people judge you and nice people relax a little. Who would you rather have visit longer?

The list continues (stay tuned for Part II), but it is past eleven o’clock and I have Zumba tomorrow morning (I wrote this last night.) I will leave you with this parting thought before I go to sleep without washing my face. I may not be able to color-coordinate and uber-organize my life like Martha Stewart. But, may I remind you of something it appears many people have forgotten…Girlfriend went to jail! And somehow I bet that, in the “Slammer,” her closet-organizing skills turned out to be completely useless. Just saying.

To be continued… 😉

Why We Love Maria (Von Trapp) Julie Andrews’ Style

Me in front of the "Sound of Music" bus - Austria, 2009. Two words - Freakishly Excited.

A few years ago, I was laid off from my account management position at a regional marketing agency. It was no surprise, really. The economy had tanked. Our revolving door of clients made each new account feel more and more like a professional one night stand. And those of us left, sat hunched over our desks, popping TUMS and trying not to draw attention to the growing target on our backs. Quite dismal indeed!

Cue “The Sound of Music” Scene 1.  Julie Andrews, as Maria, is whimsically twirling about the Austrian countryside in her simple pinafore with arms outstretched in wonderment. Of course, this opening musical interlude cost her dearly. She ruffled enough habits to be ousted from the abbey…indefinitely.

You know the story and Maria’s famously wistful response to her uncertain future. “When the Lord closes a door, somewhere he opens a window.”

I can relate to Maria’s clumsy days at the abbey. She was committed to her calling. But she often got, well, distracted – by singing…and stuff.

Maria: I can’t seem to stop singing wherever I am. And what’s worse, I can’t seem to stop saying things – anything and everything I think and feel.

Mother Abbess: Some people would call that honesty.

Maria: Oh, but it’s terrible, Reverend Mother.

What we find so endearing about Maria, even this many years later, is her honesty. She stood up to the Captain, did things her way and changed her destiny. I am pretty sure a handsome new millionaire husband and traveling family choir made failing at the nun-thing a little less devastating (once they escape Nazi-occupied Austria, of course).

When life closed a door for me in the form of my job loss, I realized it was time to open a few windows. I may not always be as positive as Julie Andrews in, well, every scene of that movie. But that’s part of the whole honesty thing, right?

We can learn a thing or two from her sweet stubborn optimism.

J. Laurel Confession #001: I have been known to dance and sing when no one is watching. Though I would hesitate to do so in the Alpine wilderness as the result could be, I fear, far worse than a scraped knee. (I am picturing a minor scuffle with a billy-goat and at least one, if not more, close calls with a rocky ledge of some sort.)

We’ll just skip the dancing and go straight to opening those windows!

Craving Hope: “Captive” Review and DVD Giveaway!

I have been thinking and writing about nourishing the soul. One way I do this for myself is choosing uplifting entertainment. If someone would have suggested I choose uplifting entertainment while I was in my twenties, I would have rolled my eyes and accused them of living in a bubble. But my thoughts have changed on the subject.

Maybe it’s the mom in me, or the fact that life has become stressful enough without watching movies that glorify violence, highlight terrible and hopeless situations and celebrate sociopaths. But I’m just tired of that. Sadly, many shows and movies are now built around protagonists who are villains, con-artists and sadists. I don’t mind realism, but I don’t want to watch people slowly unravel and find new ways to hurt those around them. That isn’t fun for me. Nor does it feel like entertainment.

Captive DVD cover.jpg

Win your own copy of this DVD!

More and more, I crave messages about hope and redemption. The “Captive” movie, based on real events, satisfied my need for both.

You may remember the story from news headlines when fugitive Brian Nichols held Atlanta resident, Ashley Smith, hostage. Fearing for her life, Ashley turned to Rick Warren’s The Purpose Driven Life for guidance. And that’s where the story took an unusual turn.

“Captive” kept me on the edge of my seat. What I found most thematically interesting is that both the captor and captive have messy backstories–Nichols (Golden Globe Nominee David Oyelowo) with his criminal past and Ashley Smith (Kata Mara), a widow struggling to rebuild her life after a meth addiction. Instead of offering an US verses THEM approach, the movie reveals an unlikely yet complex kinship between the two individuals that reminds us we are all broken…and that there is hope for us all.

Lucky for you, I am giving away a DVD copy of this great movie for free. Enter HERE!

DVD Release Date: January 5, 2016
Runtime: 96 minutes
Rating: PG-13 (for mature thematic elements involving violence and substance abuse) 
There are over 30 minutes of bonus content on this DVD including Journey Through Darkness: Filming Captive and Faith and The Purpose Driven Life.  Also included with this DVD is a Digital HD copy that can be instantly streamed and downloaded.

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Disclosure: Many thanks to Propeller Consulting LLC for providing this prize for the giveaway. Choice of winners and opinions are 100% my own and NOT influenced by monetary compensation. I did receive a sample of the product in exchange for this review and post. 

Only one entrant per mailing address, per giveaway. If you have won a prize from our sponsor Propeller/FlyBy Promotions in the last 30 days, you are not eligible to win. Or if you have won the same prize on another blog, you are not eligible to win it again. Winner is subject to eligibility verification.

Berenstain Bears’ Please & Thank You Book Giveaway

Disclosure: Many thanks to Propeller Consulting, LLC for providing this prize for the giveaway. Choice of winners and opinions are 100% my own and NOT influenced by monetary compensation. I did receive a sample of the product in exchange for this … Continue reading