Hope for Wholeness Conference, 2015

I just returned from an amazing Hope for Wholeness conference in the Asheville area of North Carolina.

The theme was Masterpiece in Process.

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I was very excited to reconnect with Bob Hamp, one of my unofficial mentors 🙂 Since it was in the elevator that we first met in 2011, he wanted to recreate the moment. That’s Meleah with the photo bomb.

Maggie, my daughter, spent most of the conference hanging off my back. Since you can only see the very tip of her head in the above picture, here she is, photo-bombing a shot with my friend and comedian, Christina Ringer.

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I can even play the guitar with Maggie hanging out back there!

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Conferences are my happy place, and this one was no exception. They also remind me that I have a blog 🙂 You can imagine that my life is busy as a mom of 3 and the director of a non-profit ministry. And you’d be right! But I miss writing and am hoping to check in with you more.

Perhaps I’ll even share the video of me rapping at the conference!

My Favorite #EmptyShelf Books of 2014

I finished 20 books in 2014 as part of the #EmptyShelf challenge. You can see them all lined up below.

This was difficult to do, as I read a lot of great books this year. Click the link below the book’s image to hear my thoughts on each.

Looking back on my choices, I see I didn’t pick a lot of variety! I didn’t read any fiction. I also didn’t pick much non-fiction than wasn’t a religious book, or that had a faith component (not all that surprising, I guess!). I definitely read more biography/autobiography than usual, which I enjoyed.

So here are my top 5:


The Circle Maker: Praying Circles Around Your Biggest Dreams and Greatest Fears


If You Want to Walk on Water, You’ve Got to Get Out of the Boat


Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption


Please Don’t Say You Need Me: Biblical Answers for Codependency


The Red Sea Rules: 10 God-Given Strategies for Difficult Times

And honorable mention:

The Cross and the Switchblade

Here are all 20:

           

Empty Shelf Challenge Book #20: “What Happens When Women Say Yes to God” by Lysa TerKeurst

I finished my 20th book for the #EmptyShelf challenge.


What Happens When Women Say Yes to God: Experiencing Life in Extraordinary Ways by Lysa TerKeurst

This New Year’s morning, I have been frantically trying to finish listening to the Lysa TerKeurst book Unglued: Making Wise Choices in the Midst of Raw Emotions. I really wanted to reach 20 books in 2014! I figured since I listened to most of it in 2014, I could count it. But as my husband asked me if I had read any other Lysa TerKeurst books, I realized I had listened to “What Happens When Women Say Yes to God,” but I never recorded it here.

The main speaker at a recent conference I attended is a missionary to India. She works in the Red Light District with the girls and women who are trapped in prostitution. Something she shared at the conference has stuck with me: every time we say “yes” to Jesus, it lays the foundation for the next “yes.”

Since I listened to this book about 8 months ago, I’ll just share a short review. Lysa had me in tears as she shared various stories of God’s faithfulness. It is amazing what can happen when we respond “yes” to God’s call. Not only does it give us the opportunity to bless someone else with our obedience, every “yes” declares that we will follow God wherever He leads.

An enjoyable and challenging book.

I plan to aim for 12 books in 2015. It’s a bit more challenging with a baby to get reading in, but I think this is a reasonable goal.

The books I read in 2014 as part of the #EmptyShelf challenge:

           

Empty Shelf Challenge Book #19: “Run to Overcome” by Meb Keflezghi

I finished my 19th book for the #EmptyShelf challenge.

Run to Overcome: The Inspiring Story of an American Champion’s Long-Distance Quest to Achieve a Big Dream

Everyone reading this knows I’m a runner. I talk about it quite often.

But what you might not know is I’m a running fan girl 🙂

I’m one of those people who thinks the Boston Marathon is the biggest sports event of the year. I had to work in the afternoon of Marathon Monday in 2013, but I was home long enough to see the elite athletes come in. Once at work, I was receiving text messages and Tweets from my friends as they crossed the finish line. My friends Robin & Colleen had already finished when my friend Dani started tweeting about a possible explosion shortly after crossing the finish line.

You likely know the rest of the story.

Thankfully, Dani and her family, as well as all my other friends, were safe. Many others were wounded and killed on that day. So on Marathon Monday in 2014, I knew where I would be: parked in front of my computer, watching the Boston Marathon.

As the elite men neared the finish line, my 6 year-old and I were jumping up and down, yelling, “Go Meb! Go Meb!!! Ggooooooo MMMMEEEEBBBB!!!!!”

Meb Keflezghi, a man who would turn 39 in just a few days (that’s “old” in the running world), became the first American man to win the Boston Marathon in over 30 years.

That was one of many reasons I was excited to get this book from the library.* I knew Meb was a man with a strong Christian faith. I also knew he overcame much hardship in his life (from Amazon.com):

Meb is the living embodiment of the American dream. His family came to the U.S. to escape poverty and a violent war; 12-year-old Meb spoke no English at the time and had never raced a mile.

This book takes the reader through Meb’s life with its victories and defeats. While the book does not have the captivating writing style of Unbroken, the simple way Meb describes the ups and downs of his life draws the reader in. His gratitude at the sacrifices of his parents challenged me. And the perseverance that brought him back from major injuries to win the Boston Marathon the year after such tragedy inspires me.

This book is definitely worth reading.

My books so far on the #EmptyShelf challenge:

           

*I read the original edition of this book because that’s what the library had. It was updated this year to include his Boston win.

Empty Shelf Challenge Book #18: “The Red Sea Rules” by Robert J Morgan

I finished my 18th book for the #EmptyShelf challenge.


The Red Sea Rules: 10 God-Given Strategies for Difficult Times by Robert J Morgan

I actually finished this just before my daughter was born. Trying to finish up these reviews before the New Year 🙂 It was recommended by my mentor Mike Olejarz in one of his newsletters.

From the book’s description: “Using the Israelites’ story in Exodus 14 as an example, Robert Morgan offers ten sound strategies for moving from fear to faith. Life is hard, especially for Christians.”

I can’t say that from the beginning I was super enthusiastic to receive the wisdom that this book has to offer. Red Sea Rule #1 is “Realize that God means for you to be where you are.” When I’m going through a trial, I’d rather blame Satan, the world, or even myself before I point the finger at God. But I appreciated the author’s perspective that God is sovereign over all things, and if we are in the palm of His hand, then we can trust He has a plan in the messiness.

As I read more and more of this book, I saw the story of the Israelites’ struggle and victory with fresh eyes. Morgan lays out 10 principles of how we can make sense of Exodus 14 and apply those principles to our lives.

I loved this book, and it’s difficult to put into words why. But it’s one I will be lending out a lot and revisiting myself.

My books so far on the #EmptyShelf challenge:
           

Freedom Friday: Jordan River Assignments

Guess who arrived October 8th?

Baby girl at 1 month old

Baby girl at 1 month old

She’s actually 7 weeks old. We’re doing great! She’s a healthy little girl who is most comfortable in her mommy’s arms, so blogging time is extremely limited!

That said, I wanted to share about a moment a couple of weekends ago. I went to speak and exhibit at the district Assemblies of God Women’s Retreat (yes, with a 5 week old – I should have my head examined). I was sharing something with a woman named Michelle at the booth next to me, something I noticed about the story of Joshua stepping into the Jordan River. This story has been such a central theme of recent years, I shared, that my daughter’s middle name is Jordan.

At that moment, a friend joined the conversation. She jokingly referred to my daughter as “Jordan River Simonds.” Michelle misheard my friend as saying, “Jordan River Assignments.” Wow, did that get my wheels turning!

Joshua’s Jordan River Assignment began with camping next to a flooded river for 3 days – a river he knew he needed to cross in order to reach the Promised Land. Many believe that Joshua 1:11 implies this was based on a directive from God. The 2nd part of his assignment was to have the priests step into that flooded river and trust that God would provide a way where there was no way.

While the actual assignment for the Israelites was to cross the Jordan, the heart behind the assignment was a command to trust God and to not be afraid. This is why God’s first directive to Joshua was to be strong and courageous (said here and here).

When facing the Jordan, the Israelites could have easily concluded, based on God’s history of parting bodies of water, “But doesn’t God want us to walk on dry land?”

They could have determined that the way God behaves = the way He behaved when He parted the Red Sea rather than determining to believe the truth about God: that in the midst of His call to be strong and courageous, He will carry us through whatever He calls us to.

We all have Jordan River Assignments – things that seem impossible for us. I wrote about this a few years ago. But God truly is able.

Sometimes God’s assignment for us is to let us camp on the riverbank at flood stage.

Perhaps you are camped on the riverbank of an assignment that seems impossible for you. You feel the spray of every obstacle as it splashes against your face.

God is calling you today to look beyond the overflowing river that is before you and to see the Promised Land. All that stands between you and the fullness of all God has for you is a few Jordan River Assignments.

Empty Shelf Challenge Book #17: “Please Don’t Say You Need Me” by Jan Silvious

I finished my 17th book for the #EmptyShelf challenge.


Please Don’t Say You Need Me: Biblical Answers for Codependency by Jan Silvious

Please Don’t Say You Need Me was mentioned in the back of a little booklet entitled Emotional Dependency, another resource I was reviewing for the ministry. Since emotional dependency and codependency are common struggle in the people I work with, I figured this book would be worth reviewing.

I’m so glad I read it! This was another book that I dog-eared like crazy. It’s truly a powerhouse of wisdom. It covers the roots and symptoms of codependency, as well as how codependency manifests itself in different types of relationships, including friendship, marriage, parent-child, and even in the workplace. It also has a chapter on how to maintain healthy relationships once you have recognized these patterns in yourself. The author does a wonderful job of weaving biblical truth into this struggle and healing from it.

If you have struggled with codependency or work with people who do, this book is for you.
My books so far on the #EmptyShelf challenge:
           

Empty Shelf Challenge Book #16: “Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption” by Laura Hillenbrand

I finished my 16th book for the #EmptyShelf challenge.

Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand

Unbroken is the true story of Louis Zamperini, an Olympic runner who later enlisted in the United States Army Air Forces and served as a bombardier. In 1943, he and his crews’ plane crashed into the Pacific Ocean, killing eight of the eleven men aboard. One of the crash survivors died after over a month at sea, but Louis and his friend Phil survived for 47 days, only to then be taken as prisoners of war in Japan.

I read this 400-page book in just over 2 days. It certainly helps that I’m on maternity leave 🙂 But the story is so compelling that it was difficult to put down. It is also excruciatingly painful to read. The abuse that Zamperini endured in the various POW camps was astounding. Story after story of injustice and suffering as Hillenbrand, the author, recounts Zamperini’s two long years in captivity. Even after the war ended and he was freed, he endured nightmares and fears that drove him to use alcohol to cope.

This book certainly put my problems in perspective, and challenged me as I considered all that one man can endure and still come through, forgiving.

The story does have a happy ending 🙂 But you will have to read it to find out! I got this book through Paperback Swap (of course!), but I’m sure it’s available at the library.

My books so far on the #EmptyShelf challenge:
           

Freedom Friday: Light & Momentary

As I write this, I am still pregnant.

I was supposed to have a September baby, but here we are, creeping into October. I wrestle with the odds stacked against me in having the birth I want. I went to bed last night, thinking about all the challenges. I won’t list them, but they are many.

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40 weeks pregnant

I woke up quite early today, before the sun came up. I lit a candle because I didn’t feel like turning on a light. I wanted to see the sun come up. I prayed, centering myself around God’s truth found in His Word. I got on my knees to pray (no small feat these days!). And the following verses came to mind:

“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, for what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”
2 Corinthians 4:16-18

This is one of my earliest memory verses. When Jesus called me by name, I faced some difficult obstacles. I wrestled deeply with depression and anxiety. My default setting sent me into despair and hopelessness on a regular basis. I memorized a number of Scriptures to help continually turn my heart and my mind back to Jesus, what He had done for me, and the truth that He would continue to work in my life.

These particular verses were so much a part of my every day that Roy, my then boyfriend, and I would say to each other at trying moments, “Light & momentary, babe. Light & momentary.”

Whatever challenges you are facing today might feel monstrous. They seem insurmountable. But in God’s perspective, they are light & momentary.

Let that soak in for a second. Think about how much of your brain space those worries are consuming. Now think of something you have to deal with today that is light & momentary. Can you change your thinking to also view your challenges the way you’d consider what sandwich to pick for lunch?

The apostle Paul goes on to talk about how our souls groan to be in our heavenly dwelling, “so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.” But we are not there yet. And so how  do we keep this perspective? In this “meantime” in which we live, how do we remind ourselves that the trials we face are light & momentary?

We fix our eyes on what is unseen.

We have a tendency to stare deeply into our struggles, as if by analyzing them over and over, we will find answers. Psalm 25:15 says, “My eyes are ever on the Lord, for only he will release my feet from the snare.” Notice it doesn’t say, “My eyes are ever on the snare, because only then can I figure out what to do.” That would be fixing our eyes on what is seen. That’s the opposite of what we are to do. Paul says, “Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. For we live by faith, not by sight” 2 Corinthians 5:6-7.

We walk and live in light of faith and what we know to be true, based on what God has spoken through His Word, rather than what we see. Our perspective is so limited. And we all have a filter through which we view life that is often damaged by our past experiences. We have to continually refocus our gaze onto the things of God.

So when those trials threaten to consume you, keep turning them over to God, “casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you” 1 Peter 5:7. Fix your eyes on the One who is able to lead you out of those trials instead. Do this over and over. It takes practice and perseverance to make this a habit, to change that default setting.

God is able.

Lord, today, the obstacles I see threaten to overwhelm me. But instead of staring at them, I choose to adjust my gaze. I choose to look deeply into Your Truth rather than the apparent “truth” of my circumstances. I choose to remind myself of the “light & momentary”-ness of what I am facing, and ponder instead the great work You are doing in me as I take my eyes off the snare. Thank You that You are able when I am not.