Empty Shelf Challenge Book #11: “Thin Places” by Mary DeMuth

I finished my 11th book for the #EmptyShelf challenge.

Thin Places: A Memoir by Mary DeMuth

I began interacting with Mary after a conference I attended and spoke at several years back. She was one of the featured speakers. I’m not exactly sure what prompted my contacting her, other than she has a fresh and unique way of talking about challenging issue like her experience of childhood sexual abuse.

I read one of her novels in 2013 (hence, it’s lack of mention in the #EmptyShelf challenge!). I then started her new book, Not Marked. It hits a bit too close to home, and I was having trouble finishing it (because it’s amazing and challenging and convicting), and took a break to read something else. Since I’ve been slowly collecting her book through Paperback Swap, I already had Thin Places: A Memoir.

I decided to bring it with me for my wait at the RMV 🙂

Mary has a talent for drawing the reader in, and thus, I read this book in a few days. I expected Mary’s writing to be more focused on the abuse she endured, and while she does talk about that, she does a masterful job of truly weaving life in and out of the pages. She also has a gift for seeing where God is and where He was throughout all the triumphs and trials.

This book will encourage you no matter what, but especially if you are a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. Mary’s work is a joy to read, and she’s a joy to know, even if it’s just through the internet 🙂

My books so far on the #EmptyShelf challenge:


Empty Shelf Challenge Book #9: “Wrecked” by Jeff Goins

I finished my 9th book for the #EmptyShelf challenge.

Wrecked: When a Broken World Slams into Your Comfortable Life by Jeff Goins

I was very excited to read this book. First, I was excited because I am a fan of Jeff Goins. I enrolled in his writing course and while I haven’t kept up with it at the pace I hoped, I’ve done several lessons and have benefitted from his methods. Second, I was excited because my library had it! It’s the simple things, sometimes 🙂

I also love the premise. From the book’s description: “Wrecked is about the life we are afraid to live. It’s about radical sacrifice and selfless service–how we find purpose in the midst of pain. It’s a look at how we discover fulfillment in the least likely of places. It’s about living like we mean it. It’s a guide to growing up and giving your life away, helping you live in the tension between the next adventure and the daily mundane.”

So several weeks ago, I dove right into this book.

There were several things I appreciated in Wrecked. First, I really appreciated Jeff’s honest thoughts on his work with the homeless. After watching a close family member struggle through homelessness, God cultivated in me a heart for those with no place to lay their heads. I wrote an article for Boundless about my buddy “Friend” and what I learned from her. I found myself tearing up, reading some of the stories Jeff shares, as I recalled my own experiences. The truths he gained from these encounters resonated with me. We cannot be afraid of the dirt and mess that may come at times when we passionately follow Jesus.

Second, Jeff reminds us that, as Christians, the focus was never meant to be on ourselves. The way he chooses to word some of his thoughts on this I don’t necessarily agree with fully. But I agree with the bottom line: the point to life is not about somehow “finding ourselves.” We can only find our “true selves” through a deeper knowledge of the One who created us. Hey, I think I wrote about this in my book! I’ll quote myself: “We cannot know ourselves without truly knowing our Creator and Father.”

That said, I really wanted to love this book. I know Jeff Goins is a good writer, and I expected to get caught up not only in his story-telling but also the practical aspects of how to live a wrecked life.

I felt in Jeff’s attempt to make the book accessible, he oversimplifies some of the concepts he tries to explain. While statements such as “No one’s going to give you a map. You must make your own way.” have some truth in them, they rubbed me the wrong way. I do believe that, for the most part, God has a specific plan for our lives. But Jeff is right; God doesn’t exactly give us a map. I share in that post how I used to drive myself crazy, waiting to hear from God. But extending that out to “making my own way” is a bit of a stretch for me.

There are other such statements that didn’t sit right for me, as well as many that did. So while I definitely related with some of Jeff’s stories and experiences, I thought the book was average. It’s a good primer on why one needs to be open to being wrecked by God, wherever He may lead. I read Holy Discontent: Fueling the Fire That Ignites Personal Vision by Bill Hybels several years back and feel that is a more practical guide to figuring out what wrecks you and living out that truth.

Get Wrecked from the library and let me know what you think 🙂

My books so far on the #EmptyShelf challenge:

Monday Morning Meditation: Deposit Courage

If you’ve been reading for a while, you know I’m a runner. About a month ago, I injured my ankle. After some rest didn’t seem to help, I headed to the physical therapist for an evaluation.

I basically pulled a tendon that goes from my big toe up the inside of my calf. My PT generally sees people 2-3 times a week, but she said to me, “Because you are highly motivated, I’ll give you the exercises to do at home, and you can come back in 2 weeks.”

Let me give you some history here. About 8 years ago, I started having severe hip pain and spent close to 4 years in physical therapy until it got to the point where physical therapy wasn’t causing any improvement. My PT there gave me exercises to do at home as well, which I did – about 10% as much as I was supposed to.

Now, 3 weeks ago, when my current PT called me “highly motivated,” guess what I did? For the first time in my life, I went home and did my exercises as prescribed.

What was different this time?

When she described me as “highly motivated,” 2 things happened:

1. She deposited courage into me. Words have the power to encourage us (deposit courage into us) or discourage (rip courage out of us). Her words helped me have the strength and motivation to do what needed to be done.

2. She made me want to make her words true. Now, maybe she thought I am highly motivated because I’m a runner who’s completed two marathons. Maybe she said that because I didn’t let the injury linger or keep trying to run on it before coming in (as runners tend to do). I don’t know. But because she used those words to describe me, I wanted to live up to what she saw in me. I wanted to be able to come back in and tell her I did what she instructed.

As you speak, think about how your words to someone (or even to yourself) are depositing courage or ripping courage out. Who can you deposit courage into this Monday morning?

“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” Ephesians 4:29 (NIV)

“The words of the reckless pierce like swords, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” Proverbs 12:18 (NIV)

Happy New Year! Wherever You Go……

Happy New Year, Freedom Friends!

2013 is officially over, and 2014 is in full swing.

The New Year’s resolutions have been made. We’re excited about a fresh start. Out with the old – in with the new! Right?


That’s the hope, isn’t it? Isn’t that why we love this season? New Years brings a fresh round of “Change Your _____, Change Your Life!” Have you ever played this game? It begins with “If Only’s”:

If only I lose weight…
If only I move…
If only I find a new job…
If only I found a good partner…

Then my life would change.

Then we might lose the weight, or relocate; we find the job or the new spouse. Usually, we’re not successful. The outcome doesn’t necessarily settle the disillusionment we feel because we thought for sure things would be better “if only.”

Why is that? Because the saying is true:

Wherever you go, there you are

Have you ever thought about what this really means? We get so focused on changing our external circumstances that we forget this simple truth: most external issues flow out of internal issues. So no matter where you go or how much weight you lose, inside you are still you. If we don’t allow God to change the internal, changing the externals will not have the hoped-for result. We will experience the same trials, the same struggles, the same unhelpful thought patterns. We will do the same thing again and again and expect different results.

I started re-reading the book of Joshua today. The Israelites are about to cross the Jordan to head into the Promised Land. God gives Joshua a string of directives and things to remember, ending with, “For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9).

The Israelites had a few things they needed to work on. They needed to trudge forward without fear. They needed to remember the instructions God gave Moses on how to live, meditating on them day and night. They needed to choose courage and not discouragement. And finally, they needed to remember that wherever you go, there God is.

What would happen if in 2014, we played the “Change Your Perspective, Change Your Life” game?

What would happen if we began the New Year focused on who He is rather than who we want to become?

How about we make it goal to take God at His Word in 2014, no matter what comes our way, meditating on that Word day and night? What if we allow God’s Word and His Holy Spirit to change the internals and allow the external changes to flow out of God remaking us from the inside out? What if we chose hope and courage instead of fear and disillusionment? If we really believed that nothing is impossible with God (Matthew 17:20), and that we are to live by faith and not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7), if we truly believe God is with us wherever we go (Joshua 1:9), how drastically different would our lives be?

Wherever you go, there God is.

What about you? What is God speaking to you about your hopes for the new year? 

Monday Morning Meditation: How Do You Start Your Day?

Good morning, Living Unveiled readers! I have a very important question for you.

How did you start your Monday?

Did it start it quietly soaking in God’s truth in prayer and Bible-reading?

Or did it begin with frantically grabbing something to eat as you ran out or pushed your kids out the door?

How your day begins sets the tone for hours to come.

I posted something on my Facebook page last week (have you “liked” my Facebook page yet?). I have been in the habit of almost-daily Bible reading for about a year now. This consistency is new for me. Recently, I thought I missed a few days due to work, etc. and had felt “off” as a result. I sat down to read that night, only to realize I had missed just one day. My heart is now so accustomed to the daily bread that every day missed impacts me.

I used to read the Bible regularly because that’s what good Christians do. I now recognize a difference in myself when I read the Bible, process it and pray through it, even if it’s only for 5 minutes.

Have you consumed your daily bread today? 

Start your week with true humility. Dive into the Word and find out what your loving Father says about you. Read about all that Jesus died to give you. Soak in the Spirit’s presence. Ask God to fill you again.

For Freedom Friday this week, I’ll be sharing an exciting method I’ve been using to structure some of my study time. See you then!

Freedom Friday: Avoiding Moral Failure

This is a topic that has been brewing in my mind for a while. This is due in part to things I’ve been reading in the Bible (Isaiah, Acts & James right now, with a little of Hezekiah’s story mixed in), assignments I’ve been working on for grad school (a big essay on plagiarism), and partly because of life events I see occurring around me.

I also just needed to write this for me. It’s a timely reminder that we don’t just “fall into” sin. We will sin. Otherwise, we’d be perfect like Jesus 🙂 But there is a difference in the way various sins impact your faith and your life. I may lose my temper with my spouse today, and that may break trust a little momentarily (especially if it’s a pattern of mine), but if I were to have an affair, that changes our relationship in a different way.  All sin may be equal in the eyes of God (in the sense that there aren’t particular sins that are more difficult for Him to forgive or required Him to hang from the cross longer), but some sins are inherently different because of the way they impact our lives.

There are things we can do to actively avoid finding ourselves in major situations of compromise. Here are some suggestions.

1. Be watchful over your thoughts
Your thoughts matter. Proverbs 23:7 says “For as he thinks within himself, so he is.”

In the article 5 Lies that Lead to an Affair, author Julie Ferwerda shares her experiences about how she ended up choosing to have an affair. She writes, “Few people fall into adultery overnight. As with other ‘big’ sins, having an affair is usually the result of a series of small compromises in our thoughts, choices, and behaviors.” And the place it began for her was in her thoughts.

It begins with a thought, a temptation. Temptation isn’t sin, as I’ve written before. It’s our choice to nurture that temptation that can become sin, rather than choosing to lay it before the Lord.

One of the Freedom Steps is Think Like a Free Person. I share there how God commands us to take every thought captive and make it obedient to Christ. The battle of freedom is a battle that begins in our minds.  “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” 2 Corinthians 10:5 (NIV1984)

Be watchful over your thoughts.

2. Be honest with your intentions
James says that we have “evil desires at war within you” James 4:1 (NLT). Believers are not immune from this. James writes earlier in his letter, “Each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.” James 1:14-15 (NIV1984)We need to dig deep inside of ourselves and pray that God would help us be honest about our intentions in every challenging situation.Toward the end of 1999, I had been a Christian less than a year when I met a girl who had been raised in a Christian home but whose family had walked away from God. I couldn’t fathom how anyone could do that, and I desperately wanted to help her. I do believe that initially, my intentions were pure; however, my resolve for purity quickly faded, and we entered into a physical relationship.

Jeremiah writes (17:9 NLT), “The human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is?”

I wanted this woman to know Jesus, but I was still deeply broken beyond my own understanding. This is why I wrote Who’s Got Your Back? The disciples went out two by two for a reason. This is why we need community, to lay ourselves as honestly as we can before others, and trust the Holy Spirit to guide us into all truth (John 16:13), including truth about ourselves.

Be honest with your intentions.

3. Be upfront about your actions
I don’t like the phrase we often use in Christianity to describe our sinful actions. We say we “had a fall” or we “stumbled.” To me, those phrases do not take responsibility for the choices and compromises that led to that “fall.” It’s not as if we are walking down a path and all of a sudden, sin jumps out and grabs us! No. That’s in direct contradiction to the end of 1 Corinthians 10:13 (NLT): “When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure.”

In the relationship mentioned above, I didn’t simply “fall” into it. I made a series of questionable choices (not all of them sinful) that ultimately led to grave sin. This is why we need to, once again, stay connected to believers, honestly sharing about our choices and actions, and even the things we are thinking of doing.

Be upfront about your actions.

4. Be desperate for the Lord
God is able. Really. He is able. He is strong enough, He is big enough, He is loving enough. He is enough. Say it with me: He is enough.
So often we live our lives, making our plans, living as we wish (and not even in a sinful way, necessarily), inviting God in occasionally. We simply forget to include God in every decision, every thought, every actions.

We need to cling to God as if our lives depended on it – because they do. “Apart from me, you can do nothing,” Jesus said (John 15:5).

Later in James 4:4b-5 (NLT), James writes, for emphasis, “I say it again, that if your aim is to enjoy this world, you can’t be a friend of God. What do you think the Scriptures mean when they say that the Holy Spirit, whom God has placed within us, jealously longs for us to be faithful? He gives us more and more strength to stand against such evil desires.”

Sin is crouching at our doors, always (Gen. 4:7). Through God’s strength and power, we can subdue it and be its master.

“Because the Sovereign LORD helps me, I will not be dismayed. Therefore, I have set my face like a stone, determined to do his will. And I know that I will triumph.” Isaiah 50:7

Satan deceives; that’s his nature. Sin is always crouching at the door, desirous of us. Yet we can receive God’s help, determine to do His will, and know we will triumph.

Lord, help us.

Freedom Friday: How Do We Live in the Meantime?

I’ve shared here that my family is in the middle of many possible transitions. Big life changes with lots of uncertainties. Challenging stuff.

Someone asked my husband and I what God has been speaking to us during this time.

My husband spoke of God’s comfort, nearness, and reassurance.

All I’m receiving is correction.

I feel a bit like Paul right now. In the midst of some amazing things, he was kept humble by a thorn in his side. The things God is showing me are humbling, to say the least.

I’m responding better to the correction than when I first wrote this blog post about responding to God’s discipline. I’ll be honest, though, and say I’m still hoping for some direction eventually and not just correction.

I’m living in “the meantime.”

The space between where we were and where we want to be, between God’s initial promises and direction and their fruition. The time of earnest waiting. When we try to push our doubts and fears aside.

This is the meantime.

How Do We Live in the Meantime?

1. Remain open.
A Sara Groves’ lyric inspired parts of this post.

I will open my hands, will open my heart
I will open my hands, will open my heart
I am nodding my head an emphatic “yes”
To all that You have for me

In the meantime, we need to remain open. Am I really in a posture that I can nod my head with an emphatic “yes,” no matter what God asks of me?

We can remain open, open-hearted, and open-handed, so when God’s direction does come, we are ready.

2. Move forward with the direction you have.

“By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going.” Hebrews 11:8 (NIV1984)

I’ll confess that I have really struggled during this time with how to proceed. I’ve taken on an additional job, and I’m just plain tired. A few weeks back, I began questioning everything. Am I really called to be a writer/speaker? This book that I’ve been working on forever, is it even any good? Is it necessary? How do I know God called me?

I went back to my journals, to prayer, to God’s Word. Nothing had changed. I was just tired and feeling weary.

The meantime is like that. Abraham wasn’t given the whole picture of what God had for him, but he had enough information to continue forward based on the information and vision God had given him.

Move forward with the direction you have, with the passion God has given you, and the vision He has instilled in you.

3. Don’t compromise.
Character is vitally important in the meantime. Integrity is imperative. Who you are in the meantime is a direct reflection of the state of your heart and the solidity of your character.

When we can’t see God working, how will we respond? We get the urge to strive, to take things into our own hands (above & beyond the direction God has given us), to stop resting and trusting.

Sarah & Abraham had this struggle (then called Sarai & Abram, before God changed their names). They didn’t believe God was working quickly enough to fulfill His promise that they would have a child. So Abram slept with Sarai’s servant so that they would have the child God promised. He compromised his values when he couldn’t see what God was doing in the meantime.

“Many are the plans in the mind of a man,
but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand.” Proverbs 19:21 (ESV)

We need to continue to grow in character and integrity of faith in the meantime and not compromise our values.

4. Keep your eyes on God.
Though it’d be quite easy to become discouraged and lose sight of the God who loves you and has good things for you, the meantime should not be viewed as purposeless, or a useless period of waiting and delay. In John 11, Jesus delayed going to see the sick Lazarus, and Lazarus died.

Why did Jesus allow this? Why didn’t He hurry up and get there and heal Lazarus?

Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?”

And they did see the glory of God when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead.

God is glorified when we look to Him, wait on Him, and trust in him.

Keep reading the Word. Pray. Spend time with people who can encourage you as you move toward God and His plans. Keep your eyes on God.

The meantime can be a fruitful time of waiting on God, trusting in Him and growing in your relationship with Him and others. Look to Him. Don’t compromise your values. Move forward with the direction you have in the meantime.

Freedom Friday: Keeping Vision Alive During Challenging Times

Lots of reflections these days, friends.

Our family is currently in a challenging season. There are a lot of potential changes on the horizon, but when I look around, I see stillness. There is very little movement toward whatever the next thing is (God has not shown us clearly).

We are also in a season where many things are wide open. Lots of questions, soul-searching. What do I want for my life? For my marriage? My family? My ministry and calling?

More importantly, what does God want for our lives as a family? How does He want to work in all these areas?

I know that my deepest desire is to see individuals walk in the fullness of the freedom that is available to them through Jesus Christ, to live with a full understanding of who God created them to be. I don’t have much time to work on my goals surrounding and connected to this vision right now, but the vision God has given me has not changed.

I’ve been asking, how do I keep this vision alive during this challenging and exhausting season?

1. Keep your vision visible.
Write down your vision and post it somewhere you can see it every day. Read it out loud to yourself. Set up an email reminder that sends you the vision daily. Remind yourself of why you are passionate about this vision, and thank God with a heart of gratitude for giving you the vision.

2. Find ways to feed your vision.
As is the case with me right now, you might not have time during this season to actively work on your goals related to the vision, but you can still keep it fresh in your mind. While doing mundane tasks, brainstorm in your head ways you will accomplish your vision. Listen to sermons, podcasts or music that would continue to fan your vision’s flame during your commute. Call a friend and chat about the vision, praying together that God sustains it during this challenging time.
3. Be on guard.
My tendency during times like these is to fall into a very negative attitude. I start feeling sorry for myself. That leads to questioning of my vision, which goes something like this: “Did God really call me to this vision? Maybe I should start brainstorming other ways that I should be living, different choices I could be making, because clearly, I cannot carry out this vision right now. Maybe I thought I heard from God when I really didn’t.”
How does this questioning start for me? “Did God really say…..”
Sound familiar?

Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’? Genesis 3:1

During a recent episode of this, God brought this above passage to mind. He knew I was tired, worn out, and confused. And he knew that I tend to be easily discouraged during these times.

The following scripture came to mind:

“Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings.” 1 Peter 5:7-9 (NIV1984)

The way these verses are put together is strategic. First, we throw our concerns at God. During these times where we feel anxious, He calls us to be self-controlled and alert because the enemy knows we are struggling and is looking for a way to devour us. We must resist him. And we resist him by doing step 4.
4. Cling to what you know.
During times like this, I pull out my encouragement file. I remind myself of those stones of remembrance. I grab my journal and remember all the ways God has confirmed this vision for me. And I don’t make any drastic decisions unless they have been thoroughly prayed through AND confirmed by people who love me, love God and know us both well.

Also remember what you know about God and His character. Remember His promises, His love for His children, and that He takes impossibilities and makes them possible.
I am reminding myself that God is faithful. He is good. He is my strength, my shield, and my sustainer. And He is giving me renewed vision for this season.

Monday Morning Meditation: The Heavens Proclaim

“The heavens proclaim the glory of God.
The skies display his craftsmanship.
Day after day they continue to speak;
night after night they make him known.
They speak without a sound or word;
their voice is never heard.
Yet their message has gone throughout the earth,
and their words to all the world.” Psalm 19:1-4 (NLT)

I don’t know why these verses are so comforting to me these days.

Life can be so – well – just plain hard. It’s often tiring and confusing. This season of our lives has been especially challenging and difficult to make sense of. Thus, it’s strangely comforting to know that I can look up and see God’s glory. When my eyes are stuck looking down, trying to make sense of life, God challenges me to look up. To look around and see, at all times, God’s handiwork.

Without a voice, the heavens proclaim God’s glory. The skies display His handiwork. Without words or even sound, God’s hand is always evident, even when I don’t understand why things are happening a certain way.

My challenge for you this week is short. Ask God to lift up your eyes. What can you thank Him for, even if it’s simply the handiwork evident in the skies? Where is He working? How is His glory being shown?

Note to readers: I am currently reading the Life Recovery Bible. This Bible’s NLT seems to have slight differences there when compared to the NLT at Biblegateway.com.

Monday Morning Meditation: Introduction

I want to introduce you all to a new series I’ll be doing on my blog called Monday Morning Meditation.

The idea behind this new series is to share a short thought or question that you can ponder and carry with you throughout the week. It will always be based on at least one verse of Scripture.
The idea comes from the following scripture:

“May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing to you, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer.” Psalm 19:14 (NLT)

I love this verse. I actually an entire article about it a few years back called Shedding Weight. I’ve struggled quite seriously with what I fix my thoughts on and how I spend my emotional energy, as well as to what I devote my brain space. This verse serves as a constant reminder that what I think about matters and should be pleasing to God.
So this week, rather than go on to share something else, I want to challenge you to the read the above article and then ponder Psalm 19:14. As you go through the week, take some time to notice what you meditate on. What fills the most time in your head?
I’ll be back next week with the first full installment of Monday Morning Meditation.
Also, I realized I likely need to post this Sunday night in order for those of you who receive this via email to get it Monday morning. Sorry about that! I’ll be experimenting with what time I post it for the next few weeks, so we make sure you have it Monday morning.