Neoblogs: A New Home

We are currently in the midst of recreating our blogosphere in hopes to bring back the many neobloggers in the fellowship.

  • New additions include now a base site that displays all the most recent posts from current authors.
  • Linked sites for better navigation
  • Updated user functionality for both readers and authors

If you would like to start your own blog or migrate your existing blog back to our new home feel free to contact me at interns@neoxenos.org

Current users may also contact me for support with updating themes and looks for their blog site.

To access you blog site just click you name listed on the site to take you to your blog page, then just click the login link on the side!

UPDATE!!!!

As those of you who have blog sites may have noticed, you should have received an email to set up a new password. This was cause by a transition in our database to make future endeavors much simpler. If you have ANY issues logging in please contact me.

As far as linking social media with your blogs, we will be using Jetpack, you can find this on your dashboard. To do this follow these steps:

1) Log into WordPress and go to your dashboard
2) Towards the top left-hand side click on the “Jetpack” tab
3) It should go to a screen with a giant banner saying to log in with your wordpress.com credentials, along with 6 bubbles of options below it. Click on the giant banner to login and create a new user for yourself (its really easy)
4) After this go back to the previous page and click on the “Sharing” bubble.
5) Once there drag in the social media forms you would like, i.e. twitter or facebook. Make sure you are logged into those accounts. Then simply click the connect button.
6) Before you save at the bottom make sure to change the “Button Style” to “Official Buttons” and then on the “Show Buttons On” section, click the “Posts” tab.
7) Then save and it may take a few minutes to show on your blog, as always if you have any issues, shoot me an email (interns@neoxenos.org)

Mom life

Here I am – it’s 2021, I’m a mother, Jay survived, we’ve dodged Covid so far… There’s a lot to be thankful for. 

Last night I had the privilege of attending our fellowship’s (fellowships’? fellowships’s’s’s’s’… lol) New Years Eve party to ring in 2021. Obviously, it wasn’t a normal party. It was outside of our new building (under construction) in freezing weather, masks on (thanks, Covid) – BUT, it was so great seeing everyone. And worth the 6 hours in the cold! My mom babysat. Zak & I were free to enjoy the evening. Typically, I would feel overwhelmed having to take care of the baby & try to quickly catch up or apologize to whoever is talking to me because my kid is crying in the cold… So last night I made the decision to stop to talk to whoever I passed. There were a lot of people there. & I had the most fun I’ve had in a long time… I got to talk to old roomies, old neighbors, my dear young friends (who offered free babysitting!!), old faithful friends, new friends, joke around with my good friends, watch silly friends deal Black Jack hilariously… So many great times. I know everyone’s been saying it, or at least thinking it, but 2020 just really brought weight to relationships of all kinds. And last night really sealed that for me. I am so thankful to have so many people I can run into & genuinely love & know they reciprocate that, no matter how long it’s been or how different life is. I know I am blessed. 

Especially because this year showed me how despairing it is to be lonely. One of my dear friends last night asked me when I would write a blog following up my last one looking forward to motherhood, pre-baby Jay. Truth is, I’ve wrote many… MANY. (I process by writing. I’m an over-sharer here & on social media. I know some people view it as pathetic & possibly looking for attention – those both may be true, but hi, it’s me. I can’t change that too much.)

ANYWAY, I’ve been trying to process this whole change through my words. And I haven’t posted any because… well… they’ve been pretty dark. My untitled documents make it seem like I really regret becoming a mom. I don’t. So, I’m glad I didn’t share the rawness there. But, I am glad I have those because – well, it IS HARD. Especially for me: a selfish, comfort loving, spoiled princess. I had my world rocked with discomfort, loneliness, isolation, dark thoughts, alienating thoughts, hopeless thoughts… But, the air is starting to clear. I’m getting my vision back. The truth pierces the darkness. Nothing sits so dark too long. Alas, I still want to share what it was like, so I can remember. And if anyone reading this wants to know (& be prepared if they’re anything like me!) 

I wrote this right before he was born: “here I am in my beautiful home that is clean, surrounded by presents people got for me and my baby, by my clothing, without needing to work — and I’m in unrest. My spirit is vibrating. My soul is sad. My hope is dwindling.” 

I wrote on about how I longed for the peace I knew the Lord brings, that which Abraham & David had. And how I couldn’t find it & hadn’t seen it for weeks. I hoped & prayed it would come… 

There was a 2 month gap… That two months was full of pain, tears and very, very sparse words written in frustration & anger. I don’t want to post those. But, I know they were real. And I remember much of those feelings vividly. However, a lot of that made sense – my hormones were so out of sorts! (On top of pregnancy, my doctors messed up my hormones I take daily for my thyroid stuff & so it was extra terrible.) I was hardly getting sleep! I felt alone! (Pandemic + Zak at work all day + not being able to see or relate to my friends.) It was really, really dark. I remember hardly enjoying my baby. I felt so guilty. I just knew I didn’t deserve him at all. 

At 2 months in, I wrote this: “I get that women say that they change after having kids. EVERYTHING CHANGES. I am no longer the woman that I was before this baby. But, is that a bad thing? I can feel my soul and heart changing just as joints and muscles change with growth. Just as my son is new, so am I. I am new. Is that bad? No, it’s good… growth. I feared this whole being different than who I was, but it’s relieving. I don’t have to stay the same. If anything it gives me more of a sense of what’s to come in life. I had such a hard time understanding future. All I could comprehend was the now. I think this in itself is growth; the ability to start to see what’s ahead is possible. I’m not so closed into thinking my world is always going to be this way or that way.” 

This is when I really started to realize that everything is temporary. That’s what I’ve learned! Suffering isn’t forever. Feelings aren’t forever. Isolation isn’t forever. Doubt isn’t forever. 

At 3 months, it got bad again… “And as a person fueled by feelings, those have been all over the place. Good, bad… All the way up, to the lowest depths I’ve ever felt… a whole new meaning of love, sincere hatred. All that and more.”

I also wrote about all of the unexpected ways I felt alone. I think this is actually important to mention because moms DO NOT get enough credit here! Now that I am one, I can start to see that. And how my heart goes out to mothers all over who get through all of this – alone. If you’re interested, this is what I wrote about that & what it’s really like: 

One thing that I’ve heard that’s proved true to me is how lonely being a mother can be. This one was honestly a surprise to me because I like being alone. I am a homebody. I know how to be social, I enjoy it. I like friends a lot. But, my favorite times are mornings, all quiet, that seem to last forever with a book, or my Bible and my cat. That true peace has been obliterated with a baby. I just sat down and wrote in my prayer journal for the third time since August 30th… This is something I used to do everyday and would wake up early and excited for. 
So, the first part of loneliness is that I haven’t gotten my daily chats with the Lord like usual. That’s definitely sad for me. It’s changed everything with our relationship *on my end. I know nothing has actually changed, but I have needed to find new ways to try to connect with my Father… It’s been really hard. I loved feeling so seen by him in our hours together. Now, there’s no time to sit and talk like the friends we are. There’s always something to do. Our conversations are cut short and are usually initiated by me as I’m falling asleep. And they ALWAYS begin there with “thank you for my bed…” Not as deep talks like we used to have. 
Another aspect of loneliness is feeling like you don’t know what to do and there is no one you can go to for help. A huge hurdle to jump that I’ve heard multiple women say is they don’t know how to ask for help because they don’t even know what they need. This produces a feeling of loneliness, in me anyway. Because, it’s just me, and this baby, and we have to figure it out. I don’t even know where to start phrasing what I need help with. (Another typical conversation me & God have been having: “HELP ME. Amen.”) I’m really thankful for my group of friends that are also new moms & he app Marco Polo to talk out a lot of these feelings & fears. They make me feel seen. I can’t imagine doing this without them. 
Another part of loneliness: feeling forgotten. I know I’m not. My friends have been so very sweet. But, I’m definitely not the person I was before. I can’t stay out late, I have a baby. I can’t run over real quick, I have a baby. I don’t always remember to text, I have a baby. I don’t know what’s going on in your life unless you tell me because I have a baby. I’m still here, I just… have a baby. I hear about friends from other friends - exciting things, happy things - and feel sad that I don’t get to be there for these moments. (This isn’t just because I have a baby, it’s because of Covid which adds a lot more to the whole isolation situation.) I feel sad that people don’t seek me out like they once did. I feel sad that people feel like they can’t because they don’t want to take up my time or burden me, because… I have a baby. It’s all so contradictory… But, it is the way that it is. 
I don’t want to sound totally negative. It’s not. It’s definitely hard, though. What makes me happy these days? When he falls asleep in my arms and then sleeps through the night. When my friends I’ve known since I was a baby get to see my baby. When he smiles and screeches at his dad playing with him. When he recognizes my voice before I walk into the room. These are all really awesome things that come with the sacrifice… Ultimately, the sacrifice is completely worth it when you realize you’re partnering with God to raise life. It’s a miracle. It still is. The more he grows, the more I see it.

And now, here I am. FOUR months in. I just got to see people again… I got to spend the holidays with some awesome family… my friends are out of quarantine… my baby is on a schedule & sleeping through the night… my mind feels like it’s coming back. 

Four months later, I can say that I’m starting to feel like me again. But a better version. Still so, so, so far from perfect – if not further than before lol – but, starting to be able to remember what it’s like to breath the free air again. And bring my son into this life that I am thankful to have every day. I’m really excited to explore the world with him, to show him God’s creation, to show him what he can do with words and what words humans have made, to talk to him about Jesus. 

That prayer I prayed before he was born about peace & faith? That felt so far away for so long. Yet, God doesn’t forget. I’ve seen him answering this for me all over the place. Even though I don’t feel as close as we were, I know he hasn’t left me. It’s taken a lot more to feel close. But isn’t that true with every relationship? Things change & you have to fight to keep close. It’s not always going to feel like BFFs. But faith is just showing up, even if I barely made it in the door & don’t know why I’m here – LOL. 

Almost done – this blog is really all about me, as usual lol. I’m really finding a lot of joy in my son, though. I can’t believe how much joy comes from another person. He’s the best. I can’t wait to see who he becomes. He has such a personality already!!

Lastly, I’m pretty hopeful for my marriage. It was hard for a second… Still will be, I’m sure. (I hear the kids make it more difficult when they start like talking & making their own decisions, too. Yikes.) However, I have the best husband in the world who has carried me more times than I know through this hard time. I’m so grateful. 

2020 Book Recommendations

Since this is the time of year for reflection and goal-setting, here are some of the books I read in 2020 that I recommend. I’ll write a short blurb and give some favorite quotes for most of them. I’d love to hear any book suggestions you have for 2021!

  • Living by the Book – Howard Hendricks
    • This book is great for an overview on different ways to read the best book of all time, The Bible. Hendricks has a great way of explaining complex ideas in a really understandable manner. He offers ten different strategies for “first-rate reading” of the Bible and offers examples in each chapter. He also goes over how to observe, interpret, and apply scripture in really straight-forward but refreshing ways. Hendricks’ love for scripture is really contagious as you read this book.
    • I learned about this book from the free online course offered by Dallas Theological Seminary. Hendricks teaches it via video and they give you different things to read each week, like this book.
  • Paul: Apostle of the Heart Set Free– F.F. Bruce
    • I was encouraged by my father-in-law to read this book and I’m really glad he told me about it. Bruce takes you through the life and journeys of the Apostle Paul in an incredibly detailed way. There are 38 chapters, which was great for me because they were short enough to treat the book like a devotional and read a chapter or so a day. 
    • Favorite quote: “According to Paul, the believer is not under law as a rule of life- unless one thinks of the law of love, and that is a completely different kind of law, fulfilled not by obedience to a code but by the outworking of an inward power” (192). 
  • The Mark of the Christian– Francis Schaeffer 
    • This is an old favorite, one I’ve read many times before. It is only 59 pages but it packs a huge punch. I actually talked about this book towards the end of my last blog, which you can read about here. This book would be my #1 recommendation. 
  • The Truth About Us – Brant Hansen 
    • We read this one together as a home church over the summer. Brant is super funny, relatable, and humble. In this book he talks about how we are all really bad, but if that leads us towards being authentic with God, then that’s actually really good news. He fights a lot against hypocrisy and self-righteousness, too. That hit home for me. 
    • I also have to mention, even though I know people will make fun of me for it, that this book is free to read or listen to on Hoopla.
  • Unleashed by Sam Stephens 
    • This book is written by Sam Stephens, who leads up India Gospel League, an organization of church planters in rural India. Our friend Heidi helped with the organizing/writing of this book and other friends are mentioned throughout. My wife Elli used to work for them and we both went to India to visit some of the churches, so naturally we were really excited to read this when it came out. Sam offers up some needed wisdom on how the church is growing overseas and what the American church can do to see that growth again. 
  • The Lord of the Rings
    • I finally finished reading all three books over winter break. I have tried multiple times before, because they are Elli’s favorites, so I’m glad I did it. Now I just need to read them about 100 more times to be on her level. It’s pretty wild how spot on the movies are in some regards, but also how many details are left out as well. It’s true what they say- the books are better. 
  • Martin Luther by Eric Metaxas
    • This is a great biography on Martin Luther. It is long but really worth reading. Luther was, on top of being an incredible force for salvation by grace, really hilarious. 
  • The Plague by Albert Camus
    • I read this in the beginning of the pandemic around March or April. It is really wild how Camus, who tells the story of a town in French Algeria going through a plague in the 1940’s, pretty much hits the nail on the head with how people view pandemics and strange seasons. I’m not a Camus expert, and I don’t agree with a lot of his thoughts on human nature, but he did a great job with this story. I want to check out some more of his writings again. He definitely makes you think about important questions in life, whether or not you agree with his conclusions. 
    • Favorite quotes. 
      • “The fact that the graph after its long rising curve had flattened out seemed to many, Dr. Richard for example, reassuring. ‘The graph’s good today,’ he would remark, rubbing his hands. To his mind the disease had reached what he had called the high-water mark. Therefore it could not ebb.” Sound familiar? 
      • “Everybody knows that pestilences have a way of recurring in the world, yet somehow we find it hard to believe in ones that crash down on our heads from a blue sky. There have been as many plagues as wars in history, yet always plagues and wars take people equally by surprise.”
      • “I can understand this sort of fervor and find it not displeasing. At the beginning of a pestilence and when it ends, there’s always a propensity for rhetoric. In the first case, habits have not yet been lost; in the second, they’re returning. It is in the thick of a calamity that one gets hardened to the truth — in other words, to silence.”
  • On Marriage/Birth/Death series by Tim Keller
    • These are nice and short little reads on what the Bible has to say about three big stages of life: Birth, marriage, and death. Keller argues that people are most likely to have spiritual conversations around these times. These books were pretty good but I wish they had some more meat to them. 
  • Men of Courage- Larry Crabb
    • This book is all about being a spiritual man and would be good material for discipleship. I read it in the beginning of 2020 and can’t find my copy to give many specific details, but it was worth reading. Some parts can be skimmed. 
  • A couple books about raising kids 
    • How to Really Love Your Child by Ross Cambell 
    • Christian Parenting by Dennis McCallum
  • Here are some other books I read and taught this year for work that are great & worth a look.
    • Dreamland by Sam Quinones 
      • In this recent book (2015), Quinones writes about the opioid epidemic that our country has been quietly dealing with. He does a great job of taking readers through all sorts of different places to show how opioids have been affecting America, and specifically the “heartland” of America. Stories from Ohio are mentioned many times, sadly enough. My dad’s friend, who lost his son to heroin, has a large section of a chapter devoted to their story. It’s an eye-opening read. 
    • The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
    • Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
    • Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
      • In case you haven’t read one or more of them, all three of the above books are great classics.
    • Fences by August Wilson
      • This is a play set in Pittsburgh that hits on all sorts of important topics, among them being race, fatherhood, marriage, and pursuing dreams. Denzel Washington and Viola Davis perform this play in their 2016 film, which is really well done and a word-for-word depiction of the original play. 
    • Hillbilly Elegy by J. D. Vance
      • This book came out in 2016 and depicts what life was like for Vance growing up split between Kentucky and Ohio. It was also made into a movie on Netflix this year, which was reviewed pretty poorly but I thought it was actually a decent movie.  

Thanks for taking the time to read through this. I hope it at least helps one person find a good book to read this coming year. Please feel free to give any book recommendations in the comments! 

See you next year… 

Covid Baby

Covid Baby

This year I took over advising the creative writing club at my high school, which has been pretty fun and has caused me to get back more into writing. It’s funny, I told my friend Joe I’ve been doing this and he said “Why?… Do you… like that?” I told him yes, I do like it. I laughed because I know a lot of people really don’t like writing, but it’s something I’ve always found some joy in. Anyways, I’ve had people encourage me to write more and I want to, but largely I haven’t been doing so as much as I’d like. This past week at the club I found an online Creative Nonfiction writing competition with the prompt “Write a personal story that grounds the year 2020 in real life.” I like to “write beside them,” which means instead of just telling them to write, actually creating a piece from the same prompt they’re working on. For the mentioned prompt I wrote a piece called “Covid baby,” because I thought the title was funny but also that’s sort of what I’ve been preoccupied with this year. We had a baby during these strange Covid-19 times. Writing about that topic inspired me to alter it and turn it into a post here. 

 __

A lot of people say having a baby is hard. 

I mean, that makes sense. One day you and your significant other are just two people in a little house or apartment, living together in a relatively unstressed way, and then BOOM- everything changes. What once seemed so easy, things like going to the grocery store, eating lunch, making a cup of coffee, having time to shower, now seem like colossal achievements. 

While I think it’s great to have a baby, I also think it’s one of the more difficult things a person can do. At the very least, it’s one of the more challenging things I’ve been a part of. All of a sudden everything just isn’t really about you anymore. It’s about another person. And it’s true that’s kind of the case when you get married, too, but not really to the same magnitude. You can leave your spouse and go off to the store, for instance, but if you leave your baby at home you have some bigger problems… 

Having a baby became even more complicated for us since, as the title of this writing suggests, we had the privilege of doing so in the middle of a global pandemic. 

Our baby was born in August of 2020, which means my wife, Elli, was increasingly pregnant during the beginning of the COVID-19 experience we are all way too familiar with. The pregnancy part was hard enough with not being able to have as many family or friends over to help. But we got through it. 

I mainly want to talk about the actually having the baby aspect of all this. 

His name is James and he truly is a gift from God. Elli and I love him dearly, and he brings me way more joy than I thought another person could. Having a child you helped create brings so many emotions and thoughts to a person’s mind that were only inklings before. Was every person alive right now really a little baby like this? Every person really was this loved and cared for at some point? His little infectious smile brings me immense joy, but what happens when I inevitably disappoint him? Everyone really needed their diaper changed this much

It has been great in so many ways. It has also been one of the more challenging time periods of my life, and I think a big part of that is because of our dear friend enemy, the coronavirus. 

The pandemic reality hit us hard the first week we brought baby James home. Elli’s mom lives up the road and was all ready and willing to help us (and man, did we need the help). However, just a day or two after we were out of the hospital she, along with James’ grandfather and the rest of my wife’s family, were exposed to coronavirus and had to quarantine for two weeks. This is hard enough in a “normal” situation, but we were truly devastated. Two weeks? You mean we have to be alone with this baby for two weeks? Of course, that’s not really how we felt (remember- we do love him…), but the immense loneliness and frustration brought on during that time was truly hard-hitting. 

We got through it. He is still here, and now all his grandparents can see him again. Many other family and friends have been so helpful, and we really don’t deserve any of their support and love.

There have been many other stories like this as we continue to raise a three-month-old infant. I don’t really want to complain, though. Elli is truly an amazing mom and it is amazing to get to witness her love for him every single day. Our friends and family have also been great. It is just different with this virus. Everything is just a little different for pretty much everybody. 

It makes me think about how important people are, and how hard it is to truly do anything “on your own.” Sure, my wife and I will be the main ones to raise this kid. And we should be. But if he’s going to turn out to be a giver and a lover and a strong person in this weak world, then he will need to be raised by the village around us. I think that is what 2020 has shown me. People are important, and when things get in between those relationships the fabric of what we can be starts to unravel. 

These strange times have whittled down all our circles into smaller and smaller groups, which makes me wonder how terrible that would be if it lasted forever. As I’ve tried to convince you above, Elli and I really do love our son, James. He’s great. Her and I, by necessity, love him more than anyone else could right now. But imagine if James grew up and literally only knew his mom and me. Like if we just kept him home all the time because we were worried about what could happen to him out there. How much of a disaster would that be? Even though we care for him more than we thought we possibly could, there is no way he would turn out well at all that way. He has to get “out there” and around other people. 

This is true for all of us. 

It’s weird right now, because as my friend Adi mentioned in a teaching this week, staying at home and isolating yourself has morphed into a moral virtue these past eight or so months. I don’t really want to argue for or against the necessity of that at this stage of the virus, but what I do want to mention is how unfortunate it would be if it stays that way. Staying at home and isolating yourself from the world is not a virtuous achievement. Maybe to some degree it’s medically necessary for the time being, but the consequences of that idea being ingrained in our minds could really be devastating. 

As a teacher, one of the main concerns I’ve had for my students during this time is their mental health. School is important academically, of course, but it also plays a large role in providing community for millions of students. With many schools shifting to remote learning, I was concerned about how my students would cope emotionally. It seems they are not coping very well, according to this study. College students are also seeing increases in depression across the board, as this article suggests. A larger study shows that the rate of depression has tripled among adults in the United States since the start of the pandemic. 

These statistics are troubling. Trying to look at the bright side of this, it does seem that people are starting to sense their innate need for relationships because of the current circumstances. I know many people who still met with their families for Thanksgiving (usually in way smaller numbers than normal, and perhaps less loudly on social media), and from some conversations it seems the reason is because they just can’t get around the fact that relationships are what’s important. People matter. Our lives are really short and we can’t spend them alone all the time. One family member told my wife that she would rather get sick (or worse) than miss out on our son’s first year. Debate the merits of that all you want in a time like this, but I think many people are feeling the same way. 

It’s about time I bring up what God has to say about all of this. He has a lot to say, in fact. One of the many beautiful things about Him is His care for people as a whole and the vast distance He will go through to meet us where we’re at. There are many verses I could share here, but I’m just going to share a few. 

1 John 4:7-8 shows how at the very heart of God’s character is love. Therefore, when we love other people we are showing our relationship with a loving God. “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.” 

Romans 12 is a great chapter to read about the primacy of being united together in relationships. Verses 3-5 say, “For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith. For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.” Part of the beauty of being in a relationship with God is He brings us into relationships with other believers, too. He goes as far to say that we are now “members of one another,” as though we are now spiritually joined together to other believers. I’ve experienced this awesome connection time and time again. It was one of the main things that brought me to Christ, actually, by seeing this kind of love demonstrated in front of me. Romans 12:10 adds to this, saying “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor.” 

In John 17, Jesus Himself goes into detail on how important love relationships are. The context is that Jesus is praying out to God right before He was going to be betrayed, put on trial, and killed. He spends most of the prayer praying for the future of mankind. He prays for all of us, saying in verse 4, “This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” Here he’s praying we can all see the truth of His love for us, that He was about to go to the cross and die for us to offer us real, true, eternal life. He continues by praying for future believers, saying in verses 22-23, “The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one; I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me…” This passage has blown my mind ever since the first time I had it explained to me. Francis Schaeffer goes into it in detail in his great little book The Mark of the Christian. In short, Jesus is praying for believers to be united in real loving relationships and community in order for the rest of the world to know that God really did send the Son, Jesus, down to earth to die for their sins. How important is it that we continue to be close with one another? If we do, the world will be able to tell that Jesus really is real and that He really does love them so much that He died and rose again for them. That’s a big deal. Schaeffer calls it the “final apologetic” and says in his book, “Here Jesus is stating something… which is much more cutting, much more profound. We cannot expect the world to believe that the Father sent the Son, that Jesus’ claims are true, and that Christianity is true, unless the world sees some reality of oneness of true Christians…. Now that is frightening. Should we not feel some emotion at this point?” (27). 

I bring all this up to show the weightiness and importance of love relationships. Whether you believe in Jesus or not (if not, I hope you consider it), I’m sure all of us are feeling the continued strain of not being able to see people like we used to. I know I am. But I also am encouraged by these thoughts and verses to make sure not to lose sight of those important relationships, whatever that looks like right now. Making an effort to safely get together in some fashion is of vital importance for so many reasons. I know my little baby James needs that as he grows up, and I do, too. I love my son, but if I believe what Christ says, that’s not sufficient in itself. We both need others. Christians throughout the centuries have fought to meet no matter the circumstance for the above reasons and much more. In the first few centuries of Christianity, they believed in meeting together so much that they met in catacombs- underground burial grounds- because they had to meet in secret. They still did it. Christians in China today still need to meet in “underground” churches to avoid notice of the authorities. They still do it anyway. Of course those are different situations than dealing with a global pandemic, but the point should be seen that gathering together and fostering love relationships is of the utmost significance and should not be minimized, though it may need to look a little different. I want to fight to stay unified with the people around me not only for my sake or theirs, but for the onlooking world, like James, who will make decisions on whether to believe in Jesus or not based on our love. Who are you fighting for? What do you hope they see?

Honored

Zak suggested I write thoughts down about what it’s like to live in a pandemic. I don’t have many, though, because I have something really competing for my attention: a baby. And let me tell you how much the baby wins over a pandemic. 

I found out I was pregnant at the very, tippy end of 2019. I took a test because I felt a little bit off and it was positive. I guess you don’t get false positives, but I was shocked because it wasn’t supposed to happen that quickly! Seriously, it wasn’t. If you haven’t heard, I’ve had some health trials in my adult years and with those trials was supposed to be the risk of infertility or at least harder to become and remain pregnant due to hormonal problems associated with autoimmune diseases. Yet – only one month after my doctor cleared me to start trying to have a baby and only 7 months after getting my thyroid removed – BOOM, there’s a positive.

Another reason why it wasn’t supposed to happen: I’m not ready. At 27 years old, I feel fresh out of high school. I’m still tired all the time. I can barely get dinners on the table for me & my husband of four years. I forget to feed my cat more than I’d like to admit and – most of all – I never wanted a kid.  (The whole starting to try thing was Zak’s idea. He was so excited. Granted, I did get more warm to the idea of my own child when I met and fell completely in love/obsessed/borderline stalker with my nephew Lukas.) 

So, how did this happen to me?! It wasn’t supposed to happen. And why me? Out of all people… It just didn’t make sense. It still doesn’t. Why would God let a selfish person like me in on this part of life – the whole creating life part? I don’t know. I still don’t, but over the last 9 months of growing a human what I have learned is that I’m involved in a miracle, a spiritual experience, that is so special and extraordinary, yet normal, that I would never take back, replace, change even for all the selfish wants in the world. 

I still get doubts if I’m “ready” or not, but here he comes. And I feel blessed to be his mom. 

I guess I started writing this as an encouragement for women who may be afraid to have a kid. I’m still afraid. If anything I am more afraid than I’ve ever been before. But that fear is so different since it’s triggered by all the good that is at stake. I fear for my baby’s health, and then I feel him kick and my fear melts. I fear for my health, but take a nap and end up okay, have doctors I see weekly making sure it’s really okay. I fear for the future, but think about how the worries of today are enough on their own and to enjoy the short (yes, short) 9 months given with a completely silent kid before the screams & tears come. I fear for my marriage, but fall into a warm hug, smile and laughter thinking about all the dumb shit we are going to do together and to this kid. I fear for energy, but wake up another day to friends asking how they can help (a truly beautiful body of Christ.) 

I fear for the word “mom” because it sounds so boring, yet consuming. Somehow, when you become a mom, that seems to be all that you are. Why is that? As I’ve thought about it I get mad because I think the negative connotation subscribed to motherhood comes from our culture. “When you become a mom, your life ends… You get so boring… You lose yourself… Your career dies… You don’t get anymore ‘me time’…” All these terrible sounding futures; my individualistic American girl soul cringes at the thought. But doesn’t Jesus say to “pick up our cross daily”? Doesn’t Paul say “to live is Christ, to die is gain”? Doesn’t David sing “A single day in your courts is better than a thousand anywhere else!” The theme – “die to self” couldn’t be more clear throughout God’s plan for our lives, so the visceral reaction I have to motherhood is really me letting the culture decide to take the honor and privilege and importance away from giving myself for another human. Isn’t that what Christ did for us? Should not this be a dreaded task, but a position of undeniable honor?

And let me tell you what – coming from someone who didn’t ever desire a child – thinking of the sleepless nights, the sticky hands, the smells, the frustrations, the failure to come – all those things cannot outweigh the fact that I cannot smother the truth, the feeling, the reality that the honor is ALL mine. 

Lastly, I just want to go back to the “spiritual experience” point: that might sound weird because literally unfathomable amounts of women get to become mothers, so is it really that special? That’s one thing that keeps tripping me up – how is this so normal yet so profound? How is this such an extraordinary experience, yet happens many, many times a day all over the world? I don’t know. As my doctor tells me to relieve my anxiety: “You’re not special. Women give birth every minute.” Yet, I am special! Because I have another person depending on me and connected to me… Isn’t that a mind-blowing, wonder of life? It’s really taught me the beauty of life and, at the same time, the smallness. So many are born and die without ever feeling like they matter. As a soon to be mom, that breaks my heart. Is this how God feels for every soul born apart from him? If I could describe to a lonely, empty spirit the intense love felt for them before they were even born, wouldn’t that make a difference? I wish, I hope. Life is weighty. Although we’re here one day and gone tomorrow, life is a gift. Even though there are millions of us (billions), each one matters. And that’s the beautiful seeming contradiction I’ve added to the list that God loves to use: you’re not special, but you are. Why? Because I made you matter. Motherhood? It’s monotonous and boring, but sanctifying and spiritual. Why? Because God our Father gave us this experience to share creation with him. Life is full of down time and stupid, selfish thoughts, yet my thoughts have value and weight and my time can change the world. Why? Because God so loved the world that he sent his son to die for us, so that because of our faith, Christ has brought us into this place of undeserved privilege where we now stand – confidently & joyfully looking forward to sharing in God’s glory. 

I don’t know, man, it just blows my mind. And I hope my babe can one day understand more than I ever could about his heavenly Father. 

So, those are some thoughts circling through my head as I’ve been pregnant through a pandemic. Not so much the pandemic, but the pregnant part. And I’m still scared & tired so I’d appreciate prayers for safety these last 2 weeks and a safe baby. 

P.S. I guess it’s worth mentioning what it’s been like to be pregnant during a pandemic. Zak can’t come to any of the appointments, but we used Facetime when we found out the gender. My mom can’t be with me in the delivery room, which is sad because (remember how I’m a 27 yo high school graduate) I want my mom now more than ever. No visitors allowed after he’s born. And, a pregnant lady probably should take more precautions than I have been (but PTL, I have been safe!) So, there’s that! Overall, with things being shut down, I feel like I’ve gotten to rest more than I would have without a pandemic on the loose. And I am fortunate enough to live in an area not overrun with Coronavirus. I live in a quiet neighborhood where walking and biking have been a godsend. And the weather for Northeast Ohio this summer has been nothing to complain about – it’s been great! Which has been a wonderful experience to remain active without fearing for my life, as some have had to do in bigger cities. We also purchased a camper this year and have been able to get away into nature, which is really fun! Who needs international travel when you can plop down next to a lake for a week?! I haven’t given up grocery shopping just yet because it’s truly a freedom I’d risk my life for. Wearing a mask on a 90 degree day with a big ol’ pregnant belly smushing your lungs isn’t the most fun, either, but does make me feel safer. Also, an excuse not to hug every person I see is kind of selfishly great for a non-touchy person like me – lolz.

It will be interesting coming home from the hospital and how to navigate visitors for our little guy’s safety. But, as with all things, God has been so very gracious. And the body of Christ, even at a distance, has been a lifesaver! I wouldn’t know where to begin without the help & prayers of others!!

2020 Books

At the beginning of the year I found out I was pregnant. This news sparked in me a whole lot of “there’s so much to do!” One of the things I’m glad my freak out lead to was to learn to read again. I set a goal to read a book a month. At first I think I went too fast… But overall, I’m so glad I’ve gotten into this habit of reading. It’s so crazy what one chapter a day can do for your mind (or one a week!!) And it’s INSANE how much time you can save by plugging your phone in the other room, walking away, and choosing to focus in on a book. I’ve chosen to document the good reads here so I can honestly brag about my accomplishment… But also to let y’all know what I think is worth it! (Spoiler alert: every book I’ve ready is 10/10!) 

Praying with Paul by DA Carson

I started this one January 1st because my beloved Darlene gave it to me for Christmas! So, you know it’s gonna be good. It was. It was definitely the first Carson book I could finish and get something from it. I struggle with prayer the older I get. I get busier. I forget. I grow MORE selfish!! How is that possible?! Yet, this book – instead of lessons on prayer and teaching you how and all the nifty ways to spice up your sex life — ER I MEAN PRAYER LIFE! (But aren’t a lot of prayer books like that?! lol.) Instead of that, Carson really wonderfully outlines Paul’s prayers! And lemme tell you, a spiritual book that begins with a chunk of scripture each chapter is something I can get behind! Use the Word, please! Thank you, Carson. (Beware: he’s Calvinist for sure. Also, very dense! But the theology is one of my favorites. It reminded me it’s all about God and when we look at who he is first, our prayer life changes tons.) 


Unleashed by Samuel Stephens 

Of COURSE I have to plug this! It’s by Rev. Samuel Stephens – only the most awesome church planter this century has seen! (OK, I’m biased. I work for India Gospel League – which he began.) But, I can’t tell you enough how much I love this book. It’s sings in perfect harmony with Acts/the first century church and is really a guide on how churches today can be more like the church in Acts! It’s refreshing, challenging and makes me excited to do ministry in all out dependence on following the adventure the Holy Spirit has set! I think all Freedom Fellowship folks will enjoy it and will be rejuvenated to hear that other people in the world like to “do church” our way! (Which is really relationally!) 

Can Science Explain Everything? by John Lennox

Lennox has a special place in my heart since that one time he spoke at XSI and used the last part of his teaching to speak directly to the young people in the room. I can’t tell you how much, as a young person struggling with my faith, that meant. Everything he says is somehow revolutionary and soaking in humility. You can’t help but love the guy! He’s got a great sense of humor, too. The book really reads like one of his talks – a conversation. I picked this one because it was short and I suck at apologetics. What I liked about it was that it wasn’t so much an apologetics books, but an argument for why science & the Bible can work. He walked you through the WHY – why it’s possible there is a God and science, why scientists words aren’t truth, why you should think through big questions in life. It’s good. So good, I got it for one of my high school buddies. This is the kind of stuff I’d like to start discussing with my younger friends. I wish I did more pondering like this earlier on. Definitely worth the read in light of the cultural pressures around us! 

So the Next Generation Will Know by J Warner Wallace & Sean McDowell 

I feel like everyone is talking about this one lately… But with good reason! It’s a great resource for anyone working with youth or is a youth themselves or have birthed youths. For one thing I strongly respect in this book is their prioritization of how important it is we win the youth. Too many christian churches don’t do that. It’s sad. I think it’s because it’s frustrating – the new generations are really a whole new breed. And it DOES take WORK, but a labor of love. I wish everyone to read it and to get their hearts set on fire for this next generation. I honestly feel so badly for them with everything they’re up against. The future seems bleak, but these guys did a lot of great work with how to fight for them! (Spoiler: DISCIPLESHIP is everywhere in the solutions chapters!!) 

Blessed are the Misfits by Brant Hansen 

ANOTHER great one everyone seems to be reading. Which is fantastic. Everyone should read this book. It’s such a beautiful perspective on how every person’s walk with Jesus is unique. It was encouraging for myself as a reminder not to compare my walk with others, and a great encouragement for many people in my life who are very much not me and very much don’t fit the Freedom Fellowship “mold” of how you walk. Overall, it’s a great book that expands on the truth that God “meets us where we’re at.” Hansen lays out grace so well and critiques christian culture so entertainingly. I hope we can make this a staple and that I can learn to see people through Jesus’ eyes and help them learn grace as much as he’s shown it to me. 

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

OPE not a spiritual book! Nope, this was one fun one and the one I read in 3 days. LOL. It was just good. The drama, the mystery, the romance… I would recommend this to anyone! But I get that it’s not for everyone. 🙂 

Unoffendable by Brant Hansen

ANOTHA ONE! Yup, he kinda won me with that first one. And this one was ALSO very good. I didn’t agree with everything he said, but lemme tell you – I felt REBUKED. It was a lot to think about. The premise is that we’re selfish and get angry at others for selfish reasons. But, we don’t have the right to get angry/annoyed/offended when we’re such sinners ourselves! Overall, it was really humbling. I was really thankful to read it when I did- about to go into a hard situation with hard to love people. And choosing not to be offended or angry beforehand changed the outcome of those events. I think I’ll need to read this one every couple of years given my self-righteous anger tendencies… (It would pair really nicely with an old classic, “Humility” by Andrew Murray.) 

What’s next? Currently reading: 

  • The Truth About Us by Brant Hansen
  • The Man in White by Johnny Cash

After that:

  • Christian Parenting by Dennis McCallum
  • & open for recommendations!!

UPDATE:

I concluded 2020 with little more than the list above. But I’m not mad. I had a baby and it’s really, really hard to read a lot with them. Also, for having a baby, I did read a lot, I think. Nothing quite as heavy as a Carson book, but quite enjoyable.
To add to my list above, I also read:

  1. Babywise – a book about getting your baby to hecking sleep.
  2. 2-8: All of the Harry Potter books.
  3. 9. Midnight Sun (very bad)
  4. 10-12. LoTR.
  5. 13. You & Me Forever by Francis Chan

I also am in the middle of these still:

  1. Walking in Victory (worth many re-reads.)
  2. masterplan of Evangelism (ditto^)
  3. Christian Parenting

The start of a journey.

If you would have asked me at the beginning of 2015 what my New Years resolution was, I would not have said “Missions trip” or “India Trip”. I was actually very apathetic to the idea of going to India. I specifically remember conversations I had with people where I justified my hesitancy to consider a trip to India. I would say:

“wellll I’ve been on the Buffalo Missions Trip 5 times and I feel like I got my missions experience”.

Yes I know, this is silly. I think there was a lot to be learned at the Buffalo Missions Trip. I now realize that I will learn much different lessons through this India trip. Lessons that include being vulnerable with other men on a daily basis, experiencing a new culture with open ears and my mouth shut at times, and learning how to trust the Lord on a very deep level with my deepest anxieties.  I struggle with anxiety and stress so my prayer for this trip is that it will give Matthew 6:25-34 a whole new meaning to my life.

It was in February that Pastor Benny came from India to visit our Church in Kent, Ohio. He spoke on the topic of the different stages of the Church out of Acts. It is hard for me remember the exact points Benny was making but I do know, after that teaching, I was almost convinced that I wanted to go to India. I thought about how this man is willing to travel by himself to America and teach a room full of people that he hardly knows. This moved me. I prayed at the end of that teaching and I felt the Lord put it on my heart that I needed to stop worrying and justifying, He made it clear to me that this India trip could be something that is fruitful as I went through lots of physical pain before this because of an accident, But with the best quality cbd oil as treatment and physical therapy and God it was all possible.

In the next week I contacted Greg and told him that I would like to go to India and before I knew it, things were on the move. As the months went by it was made clear the the Lord was at work. One thing I will mention is my team that the Lord put together. I am going to India with Mike Hudok, Greg Morscher, Ian McCullough, & Tom Smith. I have heard and read that unity within your team is key to having a successful trip. I found it humorous how the Lord put together a team that i felt so comfortable with. I have led in high school ministry with 3 of these men, do crafts/make cool things with one, and one of them happens to be my gracious boss/mentor for about four years now. I feel so privileged to be able to go on a trip with these brothers and have this experience with them.

This is just the background to the “Start of a journey”.  I cannot wait to share more of my experiences and convictions with you as I travel.

To close, here are some random facts and things I am excited/curious about:

  1. I’ve never flown
  2. I’ve never been in a different country (Other than Canada)
  3. I love Indian food (I hope this remains true)
  4. I want to buy a knife or some kind of handmade item in India.
  5. I can’t wait to say I’ve been to Germany.
  6. I do not want to see a single effing spider on my whole trip.
  7. I can’t wait to buy Sam Stevens Coffee and drink chai tea.
  8. I can wait to sweat for 18 hours a day.
  9. Lastly, I can’t wait to meet this young lady:

gayathri

-Gayathri, my parents sponsor child.

Peace out.