Why I’m Changing my Name

In a little over a month my book, Beautiful Feet: Unleashing Women to Everyday Witness will be released with InterVarsity Press.  Though I’d like to be all like “aw, shucks, no big deal, it’s just something I did on the side,” I’m not really that kind of person.  I’m SUPER PSYCHED my book is about to drop! I’ve been dreaming about this my whole life! I’m even putting together some awesome giveaways to do next month around the time of book release for all ya’ll because of all the ways AMAZING you women and men have inspired me to share my faith.

So, the name change thing. I found a journal that I was required to keep in the 4th grade and one entry was about what I wanted to be when I grew up- these were my high and noble aspirations:

1. An artist
2. A model
3. A writer

As you can see I was clearly about the pursuit of world peace. When you have a dream from the time you’re a young girl it’s pretty hard to let it go- I’ll never be paid to be an artist or a model- unless I count that one time I modeled in high school for the “fall fashions” runway at the Westwood Mall in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. I was paid in a free Subway sandwich and Sprite after the show. I felt pretty baller.

When you grow up dreaming of being a writer, you picture the cover of the book that you might publish someday. You picture your name being on the cover.  My full legal name is Jessica Lynn-Leep Fick as it appears on my drivers license because I couldn’t bear to give up my maiden name- even with all the stupid frog and jumping jokes I endured growing up.  (Fick is way worse btw- don’t google it unless you want to look at German porn- I’ll leave it to you to figure out what fick translates into).

Beautiful Feet 13

So, when my book comes out, you’ll see my name: Jessica Leep Fick on the cover. In part because I’ve always dreamed about that and it feels sad to me to not honor my childhood dreams. Yet I’m also the woman who married into a wonderful family and took the name of my husband- I want to honor that part of my life too- who I’ve become and who I am today.  Most people call me Jess Fick, which is totally fine if you keep calling me that. At least I’m not going the route of Prince and changing my name to a symbol, or like John Cougar Mellencamp who decided to later drop the “Cougar” from his name. Why would he do that? Cougar is pretty bad ass for a name. Also, Fick-Couger sounds even worse so I won’t be adding any animal moniker to my pen-name.

If you’re married did you hyphenate your name when you tied the knot? Add it as part of your middle name like I did? I know a lot of dudes like my brother who are choosing to hyphenate their names to honor their wives- pretty cool!

Getting “Beyond Awkward” + Giveaway!

It can feel really awkward talking about Jesus. We don’t want to sound forced, come off as one of “those Christians” or break trust with people we care about. So how do we get beyond awkward and get to the point where sharing Jesus feels comfortable, even normal?

Beyond-Awkward-Facebook-from-template

My buddy Beau has a few ideas of how to do this. Beau and I both serve on staff with InterVarsity Christian fellowship and did an M.A. in Evangelism and Leadership a couple years ago at Wheaton College. Beau is one of those guys you love to hate- because he’s got so much going for him; he’s talented, self-assured (some might say cocky) and incredibly approachable and fun. It was also easy for me to resent him because he got his book contract before I did. I only stewed about that for a little while month but then I remembered that he has a huge heart for people and really cares about helping people meet Jesus and is a great dad. So there you go. Also, he is a confident bowler.

 

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I want to help you get beyond awkward in two ways- one, by offering one FREE copy of the book if you enter this giveaway. The giveaway runs from today, 10/9 until Sunday 10/12. Leave a comment on this post about an awkward experience you had when you tried to share your faith or someone was awkward with you, like my Facebook page or subscribe to my blog to get more entries! I’m trying to do more giveaways here because it’s fun to get free stuff! And to be smart because you read more books. Free + smart = awesome.

Click HERE to enter the giveaway!

Secondly, check out Beau’s blog, Release The APE for more practical tips on how to share your faith. Plus, if you purchase his book this week it comes with a bunch of FREE resources to share your faith.

Yes, I am totally plugging my buddy’s book here and though I could have negotiated he pay me in burritos, I am doing so because I believe in him, am psyched for his stuff to get out there and want to see YOU empowered to share your faith. There is more to sharing Jesus than just fear, excuses and awkwardness. There is joy, purpose and freedom!

I Hit Send

Two years ago I sat on a grassy hill listening to the roar of jets above me.  Dave and I had taken our boys to the Cleveland air show and along with other frugal Clevelanders, we had parked ourselves on a grassy slope across from there all the other fools were paying admission to listen to the same jets. Oswald would cry when one would suddenly zoom overhead, the noise too much for my baby.

Watching Reuben roll down the hill with other kids who were enjoying a day off from school on Labor day, I sat feeling anxious, pent up and like I needed to let go of whatever was binding me. I had been working on my book for 8 months- this idea of spiritual formation and evangelism and something about the significance of water. I knew it wasn’t quite right- but I couldn’t shake off what exactly it was that needed to be different.  I was trying- I was writing- butt in the chair, laptop fired up. Yet it just didn’t seem to be coming out like I wanted it.

We bought ice cream from the ice cream truck that had pulled up to the bottom of the hill- a rare treat to splurge on fancy spiderman pops with gum ball eyes for the Reuben. We had gone through foreclosing on our house the year before and white-knuckled it through a year of paying two mortgages and dealing with a shady and deceitful rental management company. It felt good to finally be able to say yes to our son’s pleading request when he heard the electronic tinkling of the ice cream truck.

The blue angels flew overhead in a fancy formation. “why don’t you just send it?” Dave asked. “I don’t know- I guess I’m just scared to send it, that I’ll be rejected.” I answered- unbuckling Oz from his stroller to hold him thinking about what it would mean to send out my book submission and have someone give it the thumbs down. “Seriously Jess, is it ever going to be ready? Just send it in and see where it goes” Dave looked at me, a husband hopeful to have his wife released from the grip of creative angst.  “Just send it.”

His words brought release- what was going to happen if I sent it to the editor to approve it? I would be moving forward- that’s what.  We drove home. I opened my laptop and pressed send. Releasing that weird little book idea to my editor. Released from the fear of failure.

istock_keyboard_mouse

Two years later, almost to the day I pressed send. A completely different book from where I started- it had evolved into my first official book submission to InterVarsity press- Beautiful Feet.  A real book contract, a real deadline. Actually, my husband pressed send because I was having trouble formatting it and he fixed it for me, attached the file to my editor Al and hit send.

I spazzed out for a moment- shaking my fists at him, wishing I could have enjoyed the cathartic moment to press send- the moment I’d been waiting for since I got the contract. Yet being married- and watching my husband endure my emotional distance because I was in my head with my ideas, my crankiness from getting up early to write in a quiet house, my self-loathing that what I was writing was crap-o-la, and my narcissism that not only was my writing awesome, it was going to kick the shit out of the NY Times Bestseller list some day.

He pressed send. Because this book is his as much as it is mine. A labor of love, prayer, creativity, and lots and lots of wasabi coated almonds.

moonbotstudios.com

moonbotstudios.com

 

Bird by Bird? More like Turd by Turd

As I’ve been getting up early to work on my book Beautiful Feet, I was reflecting on Anne Lamott’s book- Bird by Bird, which, if you’re a writer or an aspiring writer, it’s a great place to get some practical and inspiring tips.  The title of the book comes from a project her brother was working on about birds while he was in middle school. He had waited until the night before to write a report about various kinds and birds and was freaking out that he wouldn’t be able to get it done in time.  Their dad, encouraged him-” just take it bird by bird, buddy.” A little bit at a time.

One of her key points that’s stuck with me is that you can’t immediately write amazing stuff. In fact she says that you just need to get out your “sh*tty first draft.” It’s unavoidable- you have to start somewhere. You can’t get to great without the sh*t first.  I was telling my husband Dave about this and he quipped- “sounds like she should have called her book Turd by Turd.”  Oh how I love my witty husband. So, that’s what I’m doing, getting up early and cracking out those crappy first drafts so that hopefully, eventually they will be more like a beautiful bird than a smelly turd.

shitty first drafts

Things have been quiet on the blogging and social media front for me because I’ve been trying to invest more time working on my book. Though Michael Hyatt’s book Platform tells me to get on it all, it feels too overwhelming to me to tweet, pin, post and repost constantly amongst the slew of other terrific advice he gives for building a platform. Michael, honey, I’m just trying to get one son to stop screaming at meal times and the other to stop asking to play on my iPhone. Though I’ve felt a little guilty not posting as frequently I keep reminding myself that the short term losses will result in long term gain.

The good thing is that the words have been flowing LIKE CRAZY! I’ll get up early in the morning, put on a pot of coffee and sit on my couch with my black cat Conan at my feet while I let the ideas pour out of my brain.  Some mornings I’m able to crack out 2,000 words an hour.  I’m not saying they’re brilliant, concise chapters, but regardless, they’re coming out. Turd by turd, they’re coming out.

Coming off a bender

Let me give you a glimpse into my life recently.

I have eaten a total of: Three big Macs, two bars of chocolate, 5 scones, one bag of doritos (the big size)
Drank a total of: 1 milkshake, two bottles of wine (shared with friends…mostly) and 57 cups of coffee. This has been washed down with gallons of water because it’s so cold and dry in Cleveland right now that I need to stay hydrated so I don’t shrivel up.

image from ohsofat.blogspot.com

image from ohsofat.blogspot.com

Obsessed about:
How the stretch marks on my thighs look like tributaries of the 
Mississippi delta
That my six year old seems to be “discovering” his private parts and the girls at school
That my two year old has been clingy because I’ve had to take a trip for work and he screams MOMMMMMMMYYYYYY every time I leave the room.
That my husband and I were supposed to go on a date but both of us forgot to get childcare and are now scrambling to get some time to connect with each other.
That a friend is struggling with a difficult family situation and there is nothing I can do except pray to help her.
That I have a full dishwasher and yet forgot to get detergent when I went shopping yesterday.

Oi. It’s been a crazy bender. I’m guessing I’m not the only one out there who has been feeling like this or reacting in similar ways. Maybe you have more self discipline than me. Maybe you eat kale chips instead of Doritos? Or you get up at 5am to work out or spend time meditating on scripture instead of pretending that you don’t hear your child waking up in the next room so you can hopefully sleep for 5 more minutes?

What has helped me come off this bender- the cycle of self-pity, stress, filling my pie-hole with anything in sight that is sweet, salty, crunchy or creamy? Girlfriends. Girlfriends and Jesus. In the midst of all of this my friends Kristen and Leah both surprised me with “book writing kits” One of them is pictured below:

photo

Though it may have seemed like a small gesture for them to slip a box of Good n’ Plenty’s into my bag with a note of encouragement it meant the world to me. It was a tangible sign of God telling me- “see, you’re not alone. I’ve got your back and so do these girlfriends. Here is some wine and a Ryan Gosling journal to remind you that I am here caring for you. Now go write your book.”

 

 

 

Dreams Come True

Right before Christmas I received this amazing email from Al, an editor at InterVarsity Press:

Jessica –

I’m thrilled to tell you that our publishing committee officially approved publication
of your book proposal! The team was impressed with what you have done to
develop both the proposal and your platform, and folks really appreciate your
motivation and creative energy. The sense was that the time is right for you and
the book. Congratulations!

I’m still grinning ear to ear that this is for real happening- I get to write Beautiful Feet! It’s all I can do to keep myself from yelling in excitement right now lest I wake up my sleeping toddler.  For those of you who are my Facebook friends thanks for all your encouraging comments when I posted my goofy picture expressing my joy at God bringing this dream to fruition:

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I’m starting to drift down from cloud 9 to realizing how much work this will actually be. Writing is a funny thing which is both a joyfully creative process and an insecurity-breeding, self-loathing process. I’ll likely be chronicling my adventures in writing on my blog so you can pray for me, leave an encouraging comment (hint, hint) or just empathize that yeah, anything worth doing is usually difficult. If you’d like a front row seat to the angst of my creative process, you can subscribe to my posts via email (see that little button on the right, in the red box? yeah, that’s it) and get every gut-wrentching moment delivered right to your inbox.

Besides writing a book in 2014 I’m trying to improve my posture. I realize I slouch all the time- perhaps from schlepping babies around for the past couple years? Did you make any resolutions? Any big projects you’re hoping to tackle? Here’s to God doing amazing things in 2014!

 

15 authors in 15 minutes

Following the nerd trail of this meme making it’s way around facebook, I decided to think about my favorite authors/the ones who have influenced me the most in the past and in recent years.

1. John Steinbeck. Growing up I couldn’t get enough- I loved the vivid stories he shared about life for people in California in the 1930’s and 40’s- a place and time far away from Michigan’s upper penninsula. Tortilla Flat was my favorite- a collection of short stories.

2. The New and Old Testament of Scripture. In the Old Testament, I love 1 and 2nd Samuel- such dramatic stories of King Saul and David, their choices, leadership and failures. Sobering and inspirational at the same time. In the New Testament, my favorite gospel is Luke. Though the four gospels have similar overlapping stories, Luke gives special detail to women, orphans, widows and the marginalized of society.

3. Nikki Giovanni. My brother gave me a volume of her poetry; Blues for All the Changes a number of years ago and I’ve enjoyed her writing ever since! I also like that she has a tattoo on her forearm that says “Thug Life” and she’s a writing professor.

4. Langston Hughes. His poetry, plays and short stories beautifully capture sin, redemption, joy, and anger. I’ve made a tradition for myself of reading a work of Langston Hughes every February as a small way to participate in Black History Month.

5. David Sedaris. So. funny. I love listening to him read his pieces on NPR.

6. Nigella Lawson; she’s a great cook and her British colloquiums always make me laugh whether I’m looking up how to roast a chicken or make one her her cakes from the chocolate cake hall of fame from her cookbook Feast. Her recipes capture the joy and comfort of cooking.

7. J.K. Rowling. Her life is a cinderella story, her books are a magical wonderland. I cried when Dumbledore died.

8. William Carlos Williams. One of my first memorized poems- This is Just To Say
I have eaten the plums that were in the icebox and which you were probably saving for breakfast Forgive me they were delicious so sweet and so cold…

It was a note to his wife, but apparently when you’re a poet, everything ends up a poem.

9. Dr. Seuss; I still love reading Dr. Seuss, between the drawings and the crazy stories he captures silliness, wonder and imagination so well. One of my favorites is The Sneetches.

10. Watchman Nee. I read his book The Normal Christian Life when I was a sophomore at Michigan State.  I have no idea how I found a copy of his book, but as I read it, it was like someone was telling me about Jesus for the first time, and what life as one of his followers actually looks like. I remember thinking; “why hasn’t anyone told me all of this stuff?”

11. Aristotle; The older I get, and the longer I’m in grad school the more I realize just how much his philosophy has influenced society, even though he said crazy stuff like women aren’t as smart as men because they don’t have as many teeth.

12. Alan & Deb Hirsch. I read their book Untamed, and The Forgotten Ways this past spring. My head was literally spinning for about three months as I considered the implications they shared on how church is done here in the U.S.

13. Sue Monk Kidd; Most people are familiar with The Secret Life of Bees but I really enjoyed her book The Mermaid Chair even though it was a disturbing story of suicide, infidelity, monks and secrets. 

14. N.T. Wright; Simply Christian has captured my imagination as to what God’s kingdom here on earth could look like in all it’s beauty, wholeness and joy.

15. Anne Lamott; She keeps it real, her stories are hilarious, poignant and raw. Her book Operating Instructions on her life as a new mom is a must read for any mother in the throes of trying to stay sane with an infant.

Who are some of your favorites?

peacock progress- burning man preparations!

Only 4 days to go until Dave and I arrive at the Burning Man festival.  Costume prep has been going well so I thought I’d post a few pics of our progress.

I would be considered remedial at best when it comes to sewing. As I’ve been working on my costumes I sorely wished that my crafty friends Sarah, April and Jackie lived closer to lend a skilled hand. However, I have been pleased with how things are turning out so far.

white sundress with painted peackcock feathers. This has been time consuming so I'm not sure if I'll paint feathers all over everything.

I found a couple of cheap sundresses at thrift stores & decided to adorn them peacock-style.  Since the weather in the day will be over 100 degrees I wanted to find something cool and confortable. At night it can get into the 40s, there are dust storms and 40 mile per hour winds that blow across the dry desert. So, I’ve been trying to combine practicality with creativity realizing that everything will be filthy dirty with the dust the whole week.

just needs some glitter! I think the "feathers" will look cool rustling in the wind.

It’s going to be a little MadMax meets peacock fabulousness. Our order of military grade goggles to shield our peepers in the dust storms arrived this week as did our day-pack camel backs to ensure that we don’t get dehydrated and wither away.

goggles, glitter & Gilmore Girls are almost as good as bears, beets & battlestar galactica

On another happy note, I found out that Alan Hirsh will also be at Burning Man.

Alan Hirsch- one crazy Australian who is crazy about Jesus!

I took a class led by him at Wheaton earlier this year & have deeply appreciated his writing and thoughts on how to return to a more relationally connected and missional church. I felt like my mind was totally blown after his class & I really began to grapple with the implications for my life and ministry after I read his books The Forgotten Ways and Untamed which he and his wife Debra co-wrote.

Spiritually, Dave and I have been talking and praying about the trip. As we spend time with Jesus we’ve been praying for the people we’ll meet, praying for physical protection from the elements and heart protection from the inevitable darkness we’ll encounter amidst the revelry.  I do feel like God has been preparing the way for us already- I was able to make a connection that led to an invite to a “burning nerds” cocktail hour for professors or graduate students. I can’t even begin to imagine what this gathering will be like but I’m thrilled to meet other academics who have a penchant for wild costumes and extreme camping and go with my classmate Nicole & professor Rick. Apparently Larry Harvey the founder of Burning Man will be making an appearance- I feel like God has already given us some divine appointments & connections!

your church is too small: a review

Last year I enjoyed taking an apologetics class with John Armstrong through the M.A. program I’m in at Wheaton.  Though the content of the class was good it was an unplanned experience that caused me to see John’s commitment to unity and peace.  A classmate was feeling attacked in a discussion we were having. We could all feel the emotional temperature in the room shift and wondered if things were going to move from a simmer to boiling. The discussion got more heated resulting in my classmate yelling at John and storming out of class.  Needless to say this was a shock to all of us and a disturbance to the class. Though John, as the professor of the class could have spent the next portion of time justifying  his teaching style or defending his arguments he did something that showed his dependance upon Jesus and his commitment to unity among Christians- he invited all of us to pray for the classmate and for one another. That very week John pursued my angry classmate, cared for him and they reconciled.  Now, a year later that same classmate is helping John with publicity for his book, Your Church is Too Small.

I share this story as the introduction to my book review because John’s book focuses on the ways we as Christians must move towards unity in relationships and in mission.  Having personally seen John practice what he preaches grounds my belief that his wisdom in this book will help others do the same.  John introduced me to the writings of Lesslie Newbigin whom he quotes in the book “the world will always, consciously or unconsciously, judge what the church says by what it is.  They will interpret the printed epistle by the living epistle.” May this book help us to be what Jesus prayed for his church in the book of John chapter 17:

“May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”

Your Church is Too Small is a combination of John’s personal journey, historical and theological exploration into the intertwined truths and mission of Christians from diverse backgrounds.  John’s excitement for the future of the church is clear in this book- there are so many good ways that we can learn about Jesus from scripture, one another and history! He presses into questioning why we limit ourselves to small understandings of what it means to be the church when we serve a God who is so big with a mission that is so great- to demonstrate his power of love and unity to the world.  I especially appreciated his review of the Christian Statesman John R. Mott as a historical example of building bridges with diverse peoples for the sake of Christian unity.  Having just read a brief book on Mott for another class it was encouraging to read about Mott’s work for international peace and his commitment to helping college students do the same .  If you are a pastor, church planter or someone who is seeking to understand how to build unifying bridges for the sake of Christ and his church, this book will be a boon to your journey.

As part of the blog tour for this book, I was given an advance copy of the book to review. I wasn’t required to write a positive review, simply to give my thoughts and opinions.  If you’re interested in the book you can pre-order it on amazon or check out the website. May God continue to use John, books like this and many others to demonstrate the goodness of Jesus in our world!

you know you’re depressed when….

you have an irrationally sad reaction to reading that Kevin Smith has been booted off a plane for being too fat. I’m a fan of Smith’s work- my faves being Dogma & Mallrats, but really- getting sad for a day knowing that he was publicly shamed and embarrassed about having to buy two seats on a plane and then having a tweet-fest about it is a little odd even for me.

as if it isn't bad enough dealing with weight issues on your own- imagine it being on NPR's website 🙁

I started to think about the other reasons I’ve been sad lately and how I’ve responded besides feeling ridiculous amounts of uncharacteristic empathy for Kevin Smith- things like: eating 1/2 a bag of Doritos (my go-to junk food of choice), sighing at the grey cloudy weather when at 8am Reuben asks me every day “is it the daytime?”, being angry and uncomfortable and stinky that my lactose intolerance has returned after a 2-year hiatus and a list of other things out of my control that I’ve reacted on a scale of “big-time jerk- to debbie downer” to when I realized- the book I just finished for one of my grad classes Searching for God Knows What

"this book made me terribly sad" isn't exactly the best endorsement- but I'd recommend reading it anyways

by Donald Miller made me tremendously sad. If any of my Wheaton cronies happen to read this post- I’d especially love to know what you thought/felt about the book if you’ve read it. The book is a wonderfully narrative picture of what a relationship with Jesus could be like and is like for Miller and many other people who follow Jesus.  It challenged the way I think about sharing my faith, the ways I talk about Jesus and how I pray.  But the worst part about this book was how it was like looking in a mirror and being horrified at all the ugliness reflected back at me.

Miller writes about the learning tool that many of us have pondered over in some sort of sociology lesson- “if there are 10 people in a lifeboat with X, Y and Z characteristics and you have to choose one to toss overboard, who would you choose?”  Basically, the question of “who has worth and value in our culture?”  He started to refer to this kind of thinking as being in the lifeboat & elaborated very eloquently & hilariously about the ways we try to find acceptance in other people, manage our images and secure love from others to “not get tossed out of the lifeboat.” The Kevin Smith article was just another reminder of the ways we judge one another & then how bent out of shape/hurt we are when we do this to one another.

Writing about it here in summary sounds trite, but the ideas (or perhaps the Holy Spirit) started to wear on me over the few days I read the book.  All the ways I manage my image- what I wear,

I almost bought this hat the other day- then I was worried people would think I was turning into a pimp. I will probably still buy it and chastise whoever dares to make pimp jokes about it.

what I say or don’t say, what I eat, what I write are all ways that I’m looking for people to in some way fawn all over my fabulousness/smartness/mad skillz. The sickest part of the book was the ways that religious people, in scripture and in culture today (including myself) do this- saying who is in and out, acceptable and not acceptable to God, what belief in Jesus looks like according to certain theologies/political agendas/morality. Pretty soon I/we get so caught up in all of this we forget that following Jesus is learning to love him and become more like him as we experience his friendship.  This was the thing that made me most depressed- to know that there are millions of people, people I love, people I don’t like, people I’ve never met that have a caricature of Jesus that has become so distorted by what I along with other Christians say and do that they don’t even want to experience knowing Jesus themselves.

No wonder I’ve been feeling depressed. However the best part of this book was the reminder that a friendship with Jesus isn’t about a list of what someone says you should or shouldn’t do- it’s the most mysterious, challenging, heart-pounding, thoroughly loving relationship you could ever have. It’s not a formula, it’s not a set of precepts- it’s an invitation to find out who God has created each of us to be and to actually become more human. I know that some people who may read this blog will have the caricature Jesus pop up in their minds after reading this last sentence.  The one you immediately associate with the cruel ways you were treated by people in a church/youth group/someone who claimed to follow Jesus.   They ways you associate Jesus with being demeaned, told you’re wrong, and not being “in the lifeboat.”  All I can say is I’m sorry. I’m so sorry that this was the Jesus you experienced and I’m sorry that I’m part of the problem. I pray that God himself would heal the wounds that I, along with so many others have caused because of my own self-focus.

Even in the midst of being depressed over my own brokenness and all the ways I see it play out in our obsession for affirmation everyday I was reminded of Jesus’ words about image management in the sermon on the mount in Matthew chapter 6.  In the verses before this Jesus is talking about how we don’t need to stress about what we’ll eat or what we’ll wear- that God cares for us and is able to provide for all of our needs- especially our need to be loved, affirmed and valued:

photo by lauren archer

if God gives such attention to the appearance of wildflowers—most of which are never even seen—don’t you think he’ll attend to you, take pride in you, do his best for you? What I’m trying to do here is to get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting, so you can respond to God’s giving. People who don’t know God and the way he works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how he works. Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don’t worry about missing out. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met. Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes.”

It was a good reminder to me, and hopefully in some small way a reminder to you of God’s care for your life.  I want to be caught up in God-reality rather than image management. I’m praying that my caricatures of Jesus will fade away and that and you & I, blog lurkers and blog readers will see the beauty, mystery and love found in getting to know Jesus for who he actually is.

what does your strongest life look like?

A few weeks ago I invited women to join me in the challenge of reading “Find Your Strongest Life” by Marcus Buckingham.  Did anyone take me up on the challenge?  Perhaps you’ve been too busy living your life to stop, read & find out about how to strengthen it :).

If you are intrigued by this book, but only have like, 5 minutes to spare, take the quiz to see if this book is something that you may want to read when you have a little more time. I am always eager to take quizzes in my perpetual quest of self-discovery and am always slightly disappointed that I don’t learn more about myself.  However, I do think every thing we do to discover how God has wired us is a good thing.  If you took the quiz, what did you come out as? I was pegged as a teacher/equalizer. I think I have some of the qualities found in influencer and advisor as well.  Do you ever feel like skewing the results so you come out as what you want to be/be perceived as rather than what you actually might be?

What do you think some of your strengths are? One of the things I’ve appreciated about Marcus Buckingham’s books is that they provide a language to talk about strengths in a way that is accurate- not bragadocius or prideful, but reflective of the unique strengths each of us bring to the table. I love the whole concept of strength based leadership- I know I’ve been given the passion/skills/strength to become an awesome public speaker/preacher but I will never have a filing system or linen closet that is envied by anyone. The great thing is these books support the idea that I should spend my time developing what I’m good at rather than stressing about the fact that my hand-towels, table cloths and christmas decor is all jumbled together. I would rather spend my time writing a sermon anyways 🙂

january good reads

During my sabbatical I’ve been in uber-nerd mode reading like crazy. I am on a study sabbatical, so it’s what I am supposed to do & I’ve really been enjoying it. If you’re looking for something good to read during these long winter months here are some of the books I’ve enjoyed:

Books for class:

Sister Aimee: The Life of Aimee Semple McPherson

While most biographers take a fairly negative view on this woman who paved the way for modern evangelism, Epstein treats her well without glossing over the negative areas in her life and ministry. It was fascinating and inspiring to read about this prominent female evangelist! It was also a good warning for what can happen to leaders when they are burned out, try to vindicate themselves or are misunderstood by the public.

Other books for class: The Making of A Leader by J. Robert Clinton. This seminal book on leadership is a must read. I had learned some of the principles over the years working for InterVarsity but it was great to read them from the source.

That the World May Believe- The Life of John R. Mott. An insightful look at a man who believed God wanted to work powerfully in a generation of students to change the world. I was amazed to read that he won the Nobel Peace Prize for mobilizing people to care for war-torn areas in Europe.

Books for Personal Development:

Climate Control: Improving Communication with Your Spouse by Creating a Healthy Environment
This book isn’t even out yet but I was asked by Al Hsu at InterVarsity Press to review it. It was difficult to keep my “reviewers hat” on because it was so helpful as a wife to learn about ways I can improve my marriage & communication with Dave. I highly recommend reading it when it comes out this year!

Out of the SaltShaker & into the World. O.k. this is kind of embarrassing. I’ve never read this book before. It was voted by Christianity Today as one of the top 50 books that have shaped evangelicals. In addition to that, it’s by a woman evangelist! I even had breakfast with the author, Rebecca Pippert at Urbana a few years ago to ask her questions and advice about being a woman proclamation evangelist. I sure as heck didn’t tell her that I hadn’t ever read her book. There is just no excuse for not reading this sooner but I’m glad that I am now! I’m about 1/2 way through it.

Books for Fun:

The Soup Peddler’s Slow & Difficult Soups. This has been such a fun read! I haven’t tried any of the recipes yet but I’m looking forward to whipping up a pot of Armenian apricot soup this week thanks to this funky recipe included in this book. It’s a great story of a guy who was sick of the corporate world, moved to a hippie area in Austin, Texas and began selling soup from the back of his yellow bicycle. He has a great vocabulary and a knack for shaping a story in such an amusing way. Plus, since it’s winter it’s nice to have a few new soup recipes to try to stay warm. None of his soups actually look all that difficult to make- he does make his stock from scratch, but you could easily sub in canned broth for any of his recipes. I’ve been reading this before I go to bed, which hasn’t been the greatest idea because I go to sleep hungry for soup!

What have you been reading lately? Anything fun? I’d love some parenting book recommendations now that I’ve got a toddler!

new challenges! will you join me?

I just updated the “cool people doing cool things” page for the next few months of challenge to live an integrated life of focusing on spiritual, mental and physical growth.  I’m pretty excited about these, so check them out! As always, you don’t really need to do much prep work, just let me know if you want to participate & comment on the blog about how you’ve been impacted.

This months challenge is to join “The Strongest Life Discussion” I just finished reading this book “Find Your Strongest Life: what the happiest and most successful women do differently.” I  found it to be very helpful in thinking through the best of what I have to offer this world especially as I have more time to reflect on where my strengths and weaknesses are.  After I finished it, I thought “it would be super-cool to talk about this with other cool people!” So, if you’re up for it, order it from amazon or pick it up from your local bookstore.  I’m looking for 10 ladies to join me in reading this book & discussing it on the blog once a week through your comments. We’ll begin the discussion questions on Sunday February 7th, so it should give you time to read part 1 of the book (49 pages)

I will say that this book will be especially helpful for people who feel stuck in their current job, aren’t sure if they’re cut out for what they’re currently doing, have lost the passion for a job they once loved or are simply trying to live well in every area of life but are stuck somewhere. Even if you’re simply interested in learning more about yourself to become more self-aware, this will be a helpful book.

I’ll post a discussion question every Sunday in February and share my own insights from the book. There is even a Strong-Life Test you can take online, but I would suggest not taking it until you read a bit in the book. That way you can maximize what you learn about yourself and apply it to your current situation.

So, who will join me in finding and living your strongest life?

I don't think I'm cut out to be a riveter, but more power to Rosie!

the sweet escape

Stopping to fuel up my jetta with diesel fuel on 1-96 and grabbing a ginormous box of good n’ plenty’s for the road, I drove through the darkened farmland of Michigan to Wheaton, IL where I’ll spend the week in class learning about the history of evangelicalism and the theology of the gospel for the M.A. I’m working on. I have so been waiting for this week.

When I arrived at my friend Annie’s apartment, I could see the glow of the Billy Graham center steeple in the background where I’ll spend all week in class. When I took my job as regional coordinator for

The Billy Graham Center & museum

evangelism two years ago, I negotiated that I could work on this degree (along with raising thousands of $ to do it) to help me best serve the students and staff I work with through InterVarsity and provide them with most cutting edge training and resources. Even though working on this degree has benefitted me professionally, I’ve enjoyed it for another reason. I get to escape into my brain. I get to spend a solid week just learning, and thinking and writing and reflecting without having to balance all the other aspects of my life.  And it feels like a vacation even though I’m working really hard. People have asked if it’s difficult being away from Dave and Reuben while I take these week-long intensive classes and it is. Once, I was staying in a guest home during one of my classes, I could hear a baby crying and his mother singing him to sleep. It was so gut-retching as a mom I had to put in my earbuds and turn on some Miles Davis to drown out the noise and mom guilt sprinkled with the sadness of not being at home to sing my own son to sleep.

But then I get over it and I get into class and start discussing theology, ideas, history and I feel like any sense of regret, sadness or guilt dissipates as I float to the cloud nine of learning. I’ve liked being able to fully immerse myself during the week without thinking about if I’ve thrown on a load of laundry since Reuben peed through all of his underpants, that I should do the dishes before Dave gets home so it’s one less thing for us to do, that I need to pick up more cat food for our two crazy cats Conan and Chester. I walk through the aisles of Trader Joe’s and pick out what I want to eat for the week (chocolate dunkers and edamame!). I sing along with Kanye, Mary J. Blige and Lady GaGa at full blast in the car as I speed along 1-94.  I talk walks alone at the end of a long day and if it’s still light out, I watch the cardinals flit through the grey leafless branches and reflect on what I’ve learned, the diverse people in my classes and how thankful I am for a husband who helps me pursue my dreams, the funds that have been generously provided for me to take classes and the space to do so.

sometimes we even hop in the wardrobe C.S. Lewis's uncle built him and escape to a dream world of magic!

 

 

 

top five thankful list

In preparation for the inevitable “what are you thankful for this year?” question that most of us get asked on Thursday, I thought I would be a little more thoughtful than rattling off the standard, “family, friends, pumpkin pie” answers.  Since this is my last post for this month’s challenge to practice thankfulness, I thought I’d encourage all of us not just to be thankful, but to be specific in your thanksgiving. What do I mean by this?

Example A: I am thankful for clothes so I don’t have to be naked and cold.
Specific modification: I am thankful for this pair of jeans and this amazingly stylish sweater from Toddland that makes everyone jealous when I wear it because no one can look as cool as me, unless of course, they’re wearing this sweater too. Then we are hot and stylish together instead of naked and cold. O.K. So that was a shameless plug for my friend Todd’s clothing company. Get your boyfriend, dad, second cousin bud some fab gear from their online store for Christmas, Chanukah, or Christmukah. Back to the thankfulness.

What I mean by being specific is letting people know and reflecting for your self what you actually are thankful for. So here is my top five list to close out this month’s Thankful challenge.

1. My sister. In the past six months, my sister and I have grown a lot closer. I’m thankful because our relationship hasn’t always been easy. If I had to facebook status my relationship with my sister in the past it would have been “it’s complicated” now, the status would be “it’s the kind of friendship with my sister I’ve always hoped for.” awww. cue afterschool theme special music.

The sisters Leep. Can you guess who is the oldest?

2. Pie. With the holidays always come the traditional things I bake. Tonight I made the crust for the pecan pie & roasted the pumpkin for the pies I’ll be baking for thursday. I feel thankful for the rhythms of life that entail traditional holiday desserts! For Christmas I always make coconut macaroons and chocolate gingerbread from Nigella’s Feast Cookbook.

3. Quality time. This is the one time of year my brother and his wife come to spend a few days with our family. They’re both in PhD programs and lead busy lives, so I’m so happy to have the chance to catch up, drink some coffee together & play Settlers of Catan!

4. The opportunity to learn. Next week I’ll be taking a class for the M.A. I’m working on through Wheaton Graduate school. Everytime I take a class in this program I feel like I’m on cloud 9. I’ve loved interacting with peers from around the world, learning from insightful professors and having the space to learn more. Plus, the original wardrobe that was build by C.S. Lewis’ uncle is housed on Wheaton’s campus. When I get stressed out during class, I just hop in and find Mr. Tumnus the fawn to have a chat with.

mr. tumnus, the fawn

5. Yoga. Even though I thought this month’s pace would be slower, it really hasn’t been. I’ve started to do more Yoga, partly in preparation for next month’s 12 days of Yoga challenge! More on that in next Tuesday’s post! Even though it hasn’t been a lot, each time I do yoga I feel refreshed, energized and stronger. It has just felt so good to stretch and breathe at the end of a long day. I’m looking forward to doing more next month!

What are some of the things you’re thankful for this Thanksgiving?

become less of a jerk….i double-dog-dare you.

It’s November! It’s dark when I wake up and dark when I’m eating dinner! The weather is colder and the brilliant yellow leaves are now mushy wet piles on the ground! I need to buy Christmas presents soon even though I have no money! I need….this sucks…..he’s such a ……if I only could….if she only would….wah, wah, wah. Sound familiar?

Stop it. Right now. There are so many things in our lives that we can complain about and the complaints just seem to roll out of our brain & out from our mouths like a fountain that spits water. Except it isn’t pretty.

mpf

when we complain it just seems to gush out, doesn't it?

Even if I’m not verbalizing complaints, I’m thinking it. And I’m guessing you do too. So, this month we kick of the challenge of practicing thanksgiving, and not just on the day we eat turkey and pumpkin pies. This month my double-dog challenge to you is to stop grumbling and start being thankful. Hopefully, I’ll become less of a jerk and so will you 🙂 Since this is an inward choice that gets reflected in the ways we treat ourselves and other people it can be difficult to measure. So that is why I’m going to have a different challenge to practice gratitude and quantify it each week.

 

Ready? This weeks challenge: Express gratitude for the people that serve you. the crazy target lady"I'm going to put these water wings on a tin can to put my pens in when I write thank-you's in the tub!"The subway sandwich artist. The person at the toll-booth. The lady who swipes your card in your college cafeteria. The clerk at the DMV. All of those people who serve us everyday that are so easy to overlook and forget that they are more than just the next cog in the wheel for getting our groceries home. I got this idea from the sacred matters blog. I kind of had a hard time coming up with a list because I typically don’t make it a point to stop look people in the eyes and say “thanks for not putting my milk and bananas in the same bag! how’s your day going?” This is more than courtesy I’m talking about- it’s acknowledging that everyone is created in the image of God and that to thank someone affirms them as a person who is loved by him. Even if you don’t believe in God this is a great way to care for people who blend into the visual white noise of our lives.

Let me know if you’re going to participate this week! Leave a comment in the next week about how practicing gratitude has impacted your life and the lives of people around you. At the end of the month I’ll select a comment that is especially inspiring and you’ll win this book:

41BACRYZRKL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA240_SH20_OU01_

This book was so inspiring!

Here is an excerpt: “With gleeful exuberance, Ben Patterson submits his compelling case for joy. His winsome stories and thoughtful reflections show how even traditional disciplines such as (yawn) churchgoing and (gulp!) tithing can be hilariously fulfilling when lived out of gratitude for God’s gracious gifts. Once we start to think about all that God has done for us, our thoughts turn inevitably to gratitude and ultimately to gladness. And that is only appropriate, for he has made us to be glad.”

Even if you don’t submit a comment this week about practicing gratitude for people who serve you, leave a comment during the next few challenges & you may just win this book!

we are the champions, my friends

This past week I met with a national staff team of InterVarsity “outreach champions” from across the country. It’s one of my favorite meetings of the year both because I get to connect with brilliant, funny and deep colleagues, but also because we have fun together over delicious meals or going out to see a movie. This time we went and saw the Matt Damon movie- “The Informant!” hil-arious! I love a good dark comedy.

Matt Damon transforms from chic Jason Bourne to dorky Mark Whitacre in "the Informant"

Matt Damon transforms from chic Jason Bourne to dorky Mark Whitacre in "the Informant"

The fun part about this team is that these people dream BIG. They have incredible ideas about how to help shape the faith of college students across the country & invite people to think about Jesus in new ways. At one point during a discussion of N.T. Wrights book Justification and John Piper’s Book The Future of Justification a team mate named Ashley who works at Columbia University in New York leaned over and whispered to me “I’d love to do an outreach called “What the Hell?” and have a forum to have people from different faith backgrounds share their perspectives on hell and stimulate discussion on this topic. Doesn’t that sound cool? It’s energizing being in the same room with people who have a common vision and passion for engaging college students on their perspectives of what faith looks like put into action. I always feel such purpose and inspiration after champions meetings because we’ve been talking about important ideas and plans that shape our whole movement of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship.

As we were getting ready to fly home, a bunch of our team members hung out in the Great Dane pub in the airport. I asked a few of them what their highlights of the meetings were and they responded with similar sentiments. A team mate named Terry from Minnesota said “you feel like you put on a pair of old jeans with this team- you don’t have to have an agenda, protect yourself, to get everyone going one direction. There’s healthy relationships and building one another up. There is confidence and rejoicing, not pride and arrogance.”

food, fun and friends at the Great Dane!

food, fun and friends at the Great Dane!

Another team mate named Greg from Rhode Island said “I like the clarity that God is giving us- there is real insight into what he’s doing and what the next steps might look like to help move our organization forward. There’s energy in the room, everyone clearly wants to learn together & be a learning community. People jump right in. There are a lot of brilliant and important thoughts that fly around the room- it’s like you need a butterfly net to catch them all.”

I had a friend once remark that “I obviously don’t work in corporate america” with how much I enjoy my team and my team mates. Who loves to go to meetings? When they’re like this, with this group of people, I do. You never know what you’re getting into when you decide to work at a certain place. I never expected that some of my best friends would be people I work with. But eight years later I find myself with a network of friends who I also happen to work with all across the country. What has been one of your favorite jobs? Maybe it was the people, maybe it was the place you worked. What keeps you working where you work?

stray cats

As I was sitting & reading in our backyard I had a knot of anxiety in my stomach that I was trying to ignore. We had just received a letter informing us that an annual grant we receive of $4,000 wouldn’t be given to us any longer. I was trying to calm down and let my mind stop spinning with questions like: how are we going to replace those funds in this crappy economy? and the questions went on and on like this until and long after I ate a raspberry cream cheese muffin and washed it down with a mug of decaf vanilla coffee. I hate when I emotionally eat 🙁

Stray cats often wander into our backyard much to the excitement of our own cats Conan O’Brian and G.K. Chesterton whose tails flick back and forth as they watch these free-roamin’ kitties from their perch on the window sill.

conan really likes playing Settlers of Catan with us, though he is a bit of a card hoarder

conan really likes playing Settlers of Catan with us, though he is a bit of a card hoarder

When I was outdoors that day reading Red Moon Rising, about the 24/7 prayer movement across the world, the sky was streaked with clouds & it was one of those glorious cool-yet-sunny autumn days. Yet I still felt anxious, stressed and tired even as the sun warmed my face. As I read through story after story of God’s faithfulness to people- to answer prayers for rain in a country that had experienced severe drought, to heal people of physical conditions, to make the impossible possible it did slightly encourage me & help me to be reminded- o.k. Jesus, even when things seem like they’re in the crapper- you are still present, you are still in control. But it still felt like- “well, you do cool things for these people, but what about the stuff that’s happening to me today?”

At one moment I heard a sound near my feet & I looked down to see one of our stray cats, white with striped spots.  It was purring & nuzzling my chair, clearly longing to be petted and scratched.  My heart melted- much to the chagrin of some family members, I’ve become a cat person. These stray cats never come near us, they always run away and eye us warily if we go back to the back yard to pick a tomato or let Reuben play in his sandbox.  When white kitty was nuzzling my chair & I was stroking the soft while fur I just looked up to the wispy clouds & thought- “God, you knew that I needed this today, you knew I’d need to be encouraged by an unlikely presence & reminder that you care for me.” You might think I’m a total nutter to think that the God of the universe speaks to me in the form of a stray cat begging to be petted, but Jesus often shows up at weird times in my life and catches me off guard.  But thats the funny thing about Jesus he cares for each of us in such deeply personal ways when we have a relationship with him! He knew that rather some deep theological truth about prayer that I was reading about, that I would be best encouraged by a white cat who almost seemed to smile showing his pink gums & pointy teeth as I scratched his chin.

umm, I look at http://icanhascheezburger.com/ every night at pictures like this. pathetic? yes.

umm, I look at http://icanhascheezburger.com/ every night at pictures like this. pathetic? yes.

Our instinct is to compartmentalize and polarize- God is either big and majestic, far away doing too many important things to be triflin’ with our pleas that the grocery store will still be open to buy milk & eggs. Or God is like a friend, there when we need to pour our hearts to someone who cares, someone who leaves us little notes of encouragement to say “hey, I’m thinking about you.” When I look at my life and I look at these perspectives of God I can’t help but see both. I can’t help but see a God who powerfully delivered the Israelites from slavery when they were being oppressed by the Egyptians any more than I can’t help but see a God who spoke to murderous Saul on Damascus road and asked “Saul, Saul why do you persecute me?” I can’t help but see it this way because this is what Jesus has been like in my own life- powerful and majestic and yet close as a friend.  Yes, there have been times where I have felt alone and abandoned by God- but then I’m able to read a note of encouragement from Jesus himself that says “never will I leave you, never will I forsake you” even if I feel like he has. Even if it takes me a long time to feel this and not just know it.

In her book, Traveling Mercies Anne Lamott likened Jesus to a stray cat waiting outside her room to be let in.  I remembered this later that day after white kitty had nuzzled up against my chair.  Whether you are a “religious” or “spiritual” person, I’m guessing that if you reflect on moments in your life, even if you don’t see it recently, there have been times where it’s been like Jesus shows up like a stray cat in your life- scratching at the door wanting to be let in, hanging around letting you know he isn’t going anywhere. Eating garbage scraps out of your trash can. Oh wait, no, that’s not Jesus, just cats do that. Chalk it up to what you want, but I believe there is a majestic and personal God named Jesus who would love nothing more than for you to acknowledge his presence in your life.

am I getting stupider?

When I was about to graduate from Michigan State University I was afraid of my brain turning to mush in the 9-5 world so I asked one of my professors “what can I do to make sure I don’t get stupider after college?”  Dr. Kotzin, a wizened Jewish woman whom I had taken an intro to philosophy class & a class on Aristotle would wheel her briefcase down the busy sidewalk to her office as I asked her questions about class and feminist theory. When I asked her the question, she looked at me intently and with a little chuckle said “keep reading, don’t ever stop reading!”

“Aristotle maintained that women have fewer teeth than men; although he was twice married, it never occurred to him to verify this statement by examining his wives' mouths.” -Bertrand Russel

“Aristotle maintained that women have fewer teeth than men; although he was twice married, it never occurred to him to verify this statement by examining his wives' mouths.” -Bertrand Russell

About two years ago I was invited to join a book club with some women from the Grand Rapids area.  They invited me in as their “token outsider” as I began calling myself.  By this I mean that I was and am the only one in the group that didn’t go to Calvin College or work at Calvin College- in case you didn’t know, Grand Rapids is dutchy-dutch-ville and everyone seems to be connected through Calvin College somehow. We dubbed ourselves “read wine” as in- “we read the book and now we’ll have a glass of wine and discuss it!” get it? the past tense of read sounds like red, as in red wine! Nerd alert!

Last night we met to discuss the book “The Memory Keepers Daughter” a disturbing and beautifully written book about the secrets that destroyed a family. It reminded me a lot of Revolutionary Road.

thumbs up! I'm such a cheeseball...

thumbs up! I'm such a cheeseball...

Book club is mostly a chance to hang out with friends, eat and drink yummy things but also to make sure we aren’t getting stupider by reading and discussing books regularly.  o.k. so we really just talk about old Saved By The Bell Episodes and the blogs we read. Some of our favorite books have been:

the legacy of the architect of the Chicago World's fair & the mayhem of a serial killer who lured women there to murder them! creepy, true yet fascinating!

the legacy of the architect of the Chicago World's fair & the mayhem of a serial killer who lured women there to murder them! creepy, true yet fascinating!

Eat, Pray, Love- we loved her writing- didn't like her as a person so much! This book will give you the travel bug!

Eat, Pray, Love- we loved Elizabeth Gilbert's writing- didn't some of the choices she made! This book will give you the travel bug!

loved this book! you can check out her blog at www.orangette.blogspot.com. So many great recipes!

loved this book! you can check out her blog at www.orangette.blogspot.com. So many great recipes!

notice a pattern? We've really liked reading books about FOOD! When we do this, we'll usually make recipes from the book we've read.

notice a pattern? We've really liked reading books about FOOD! When we do this, we'll usually make recipes from the book we've read.

We typically just come with recommendations we’ve heard from others, check the NYT bestseller list or NPR’s recommendations.  We’ve felt like Oprah led us astray with her recommendation of “Love in a time of Cholera” which none of us liked, so we don’t trust Oprahs’ pics so much anymore.

thumbs down Oprah!

thumbs down Oprah! Boo to Love in the Time of Cholera!

Next month we’ll be reading Stealing Buddhas Dinner which is a memoir set here in Grand Rapids, MI! You can bet we’ll be making some Vietnamese food or Asian food in the very least! Anyone have any good recipes that would be a nice addition to the night? What has been a book you’re really enjoyed recently? Yours for watching Saved By the Bell reruns getting smarter every day.