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)

Grace

As I study through Galatians I can’t help but think of what Paul is trying so arduosly to explain: Grace.

All the time in church you hear about it. You may even have the basic understanding of it that it is a free gift that you do not deserve. But there is so much more to grace than it’s definiton. People say that God’s grace is radical! That it is extreme! I would beg to differ. I believe God’s grace is the only grace. Why do we say that it is so extreme? It is because we do not have to work for it. If we did it would no longer be grace and it would be unobtainable. More so, when we receive it we do not have to pay it back. Even more God’s grace is unconditional. He offers it to everyone, all there is is simply just to receive it. That sounds amazing right! That sounds so easy! Wrong! Why is grace so hard to obtain if it is free? All we have to do is receive it right? The problem lies with our hearts. Our downfall is our pride. In Galatians 1:6-9 Paul states to the Galatians who are currently struggling with this:

“6 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— 7 which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse! 9 As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let them be under God’s curse!”

He writes this to the Galatians when Judaisers came to the church to teach that Paul’s was message to them was, well.. “Kinda right”. They said it is true that you must pray to receive Christ as your savior and to receive his grace, BUT you also must get circumcised, follow the Jewish law, and it’s customs (festivals, etc.)

When Paul is writing this letter to the Galatians he is FUMING, and that is putting it lightly. He had told them that God’s grace is received simply by accepting his death to count for our sins, there isnt anything that should be added to it AT ALL.

If you read verse 6 and 7 again he makes it clear the gospel or grace they are clinging on to isnt grace, nor a gospel! Why? Because the message the judaizers states in simplicity is grace+works= grace. Is that even rational, is that even good news? How can it be good news if God says here is the free gift of eternal life, here is the free gift of being able to come into my presence, but if you don’t follow the law that grace becomes null and void? We would be put right in the same boat! That would be a nightmare!

Paul offers them hope later on though in chapter 3:10-14:

10 For all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse, as it is written: “Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.”[a] 11 Clearly no one who relies on the law is justified before God, because “the righteous will live by faith.”[b] 12 The law is not based on faith; on the contrary, it says, “The person who does these things will live by them.”[c] 13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a pole.”[d] 14 He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit.

PRAISE GOD that we do not any longer have to live to the standard of the law.

While studying this i did some reflection of this in my own life. The ways that I had struggled with adding works to the grace that God has given me in my life. It first has started with when I received Christ, even though I had this overwhelming feeling of joy that I could spend eternity with God, and that he would be there when I was going through life, and that he would empower me to do his will and that I could live a life of purpose, another thing crept up over time. It was this growing need to feel like I owed God and that I needed to pay him back. Whenever I would be given opportunities by him I was happy, sometimes not because he graced me with being apart of his will, but more so because I could pay him back, and when he didn’t give me fruit, or more opportunities I would begin to become depressed. How can I work to pay him back now.

Going through Galatians showed me that all this time God was heart broken watching me try to attempt something that was futile. For sure because I never need to but EVEN MORE the debt had already been paid off. This weight that I was putting on my shoulders was for nothing and also blocking me from being able to see the grace he had been giving me and blocking me as well from the joy that comes with that grace.

There is one last point that i feel is important to make. If you are reading this and are a BIG FAN of James 2, or even know what it is about you may be thinking, “Trey, there is nothing wrong with doing works for God, we are encouraged to do so actually”!

You may even quote to me verses 14-26 with “Special emphasis” on verse 17.

I would agree with you! I would say that is absolutely correct, for me and I do not know if there is other people who feel this, but the issue lies with the fact that my works were not based on faith, but on my pride. My blindness to God’s grace.

I would say faith+works= advancing God’s kingdom, I would say that faith+works= receiving God’s grace, but I would also say grace+works= works and grace+works=pride.

My point that I want to leave off with is if you have been feeling that heavy burden of needing to pay God back, I would encourage you to give up on that battle. I will repeat, give up on that battle so Jesus doesn’t have to weep when he sees you trying to pay back the debt of your sins, and what you owe God when Jesus did it for you.

That is why we can have hope in God. He did it for us, paid off our debt and when we mess up, that is paid off too. He wont condemn you as Paul says in Romans 8:1. He will meet your mess up with only more grace if you are willing to receive it. That is the cool thing about grace. The only thing you can add to so that it remains grace is more grace.

Obviously there is more to say, but I didnt want to make this too long and I hope to keep it going as I read more in Galatians, but I hope this might bring some hope to someone.

The Long Way Round

Ok ok yes, you caught me; I started this blog around a year ago and this is only my second post ever. I’ve had several thoughts about what I wanted to write about but there has been one thing getting in my way every time I go to write…I am lazy.

If you already read my last post, I let you in on that little secret already. If you haven’t read it that’s ok, but I do ask you to try for a moment if you can to push past your initial impression of me (which I can only assume is soft spoken, never sarcastic, and an incredibly deep thinker) to accept this hard truth.

I took my time deciding what I wanted to write about, but I really do hope to make this the beginning of a regular thing for me. I love reading (though the motivation to do it comes in phases) but writing has never been something that comes naturally for me. I struggle with the process, it takes time and the ability (and patience) to think deeply. I tend to try finding shortcuts a lot of the time in life, for a long time in school I was always trying to figure out the formula for the best possible grade with the least amount of work. This worked in some classes, in others it cost me big time.

Here’s the thing about shortcuts my friends, you buy a little time now, by costing yourself a lot of time later.

I have learned this lesson the hard way, because my shortcut cost me 7 years. Allow me to explain. I was a senior in High School very much into the performing arts (singing, dancing, acting) I loved being on the stage, and studying music. I’ll level with you, by my senior year out of my 8 classes of the day almost half of them were music classes. I had accepted Christ about a year previously and was going to Beta a high school bible study in Cuyahoga Falls consistently but God didn’t fully have my heart. I was following my own desires. I wanted to be recognized. I loved the applause, the compliments, the fun of performing and gave my all to music and what I thought was my key to happiness.

Once I graduated I decided that I wanted to go to Kent State University (mostly to follow a girl) though going where a lot of close friends were going had its benefits too. I always knew I wanted to be a teacher, my mom was a teacher and the idea of having summers, spring/winter break and major holidays off just sounded too good to pass up. I originally was an integrated math major for about three minutes, but knew I would not stick to it. I decided to go exploratory until I decided what I really wanted to do. The thing was though I already knew what I wanted to do, I wanted to follow music. I had this stupid little thing in my head called common sense that told me I could not spend 4 years studying music performance because there was no chance I would ever make it big as a performer. So after taking two years to decide in the exploratory program I switched to music education. The first three years of college were like a tug of war battle in my heart. I was doing what I thought would make me happy, but it ended up just draining me of my love of music instead. It was around year two of my music education program (year three of college) when I was faced with a major issue for those wanting to teach choir. I could not play the piano. I was trying to learn and could slowly piece things together if I had a long time to do it but not enough to pass a piano class. I was also told that as part of my program I had to attend 80% of the music events at the school. Most of these events were concerts and recitals that took place on Tuesday and Saturday nights. What was the issue with that? Lets rewind a little.

My summer before my sophomore year of college I had joined a ministry apartment with some high school friends and some friends from my church now called Freedom Fellowship. For those who are not familiar with a ministry apartment, it basically is just an apartment where I live with some friends from my church with a mutual goal to grow our faith in the lord with one another. To be honest I can’t tell you why I moved in originally, the lord must have been really pressing on my heart to try it out. I was not very dedicated to my faith at that point in my life, it was pretty low on my list of priorities. I was going to my college bible study, taking part in a small men’s bible study, and attending a weekly church wide meeting. I was learning more and more about the bible but was not really sure what I wanted to do with my faith or the knowledge I was learning. I just wanted to have fun, play the games after the teachings, go home and watch tv.

I was living life my way but I did not realize there was something better out there. Something right in front of my face that I just couldn’t bring into focus.

“Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.” Rev 3:20 (NIV)

God was trying to knock on my heart, he wanted me to realize he was standing right there begging to offer me a better life. I had accepted him into my heart my junior year of high school but I never did anything with it. I had yet to make that “second decision” to live my life for him.

I kept fumbling around, failing classes, hooking up with my ex girlfriend on again off again to try to feel happy. The truth is I was miserable, depressed, and always felt like I had to put on a fake smile for everyone around me. After all I was supposed to be a performer right? So…I performed.

“There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end it leads to death.” Proverbs 14:12 (NIV)

All my decisions seemed like they in theory should make me happy. It was not until much later that I would come to realize that while I wanted a life of happiness, what I needed was a life of Joy. My plan was going one direction while the lords plan for me was going the other he wanted me to be joyful, I just wasn’t sure how to get there. I kept following my plan until one night something broke. I was at home in my apartment feeling the impact of the life I was living and I felt just broken. Had no idea what I wanted anymore out of life. I was failing school, failing in relationships, and I just couldn’t take it anymore. I was utterly defeated.

I had nothing left to lose so I told God I would give his way a shot. I was already here, living in an apartment focused on growing with him, so I decided I would test out his way. I would try caring for my roommates, talking to him more, read the word and actually try to care about the things he cared about. The most mind blowing thing for me though was that the number one thing God cared about…was me.

The difference was quite literally like night and day. I suddenly didn’t feel so sucky to put it mildly. I felt joyful and lighter, IP (my college bible study) was actually fun because of the people and conversation I would have, not just the games. I felt so free…until I went back to school. So now we can pick up where we lift off Music classes kept getting harder, I didn’t know piano, and I would have to spend most of my time attending music events. I was resigned to my fate until the music event schedule came out and as I said most of the events took place on Tuesdays and Saturdays. The issue, those were the days I had my bible studies. So the path I had chosen, and the path the lord laid out in front of me had literally collided.

(Disclaimer: I in no way, shape, or form wish for you to take this out of context to mean God doesn’t want you to do things you want or love. I could have totally made the decision to skip a lot of my bible studies to follow the music path and God would still have loved me unconditionally)

In reality I was miserable in my music degree and looking back now I am convinced God was in the works to help me escape a future career I would not have done well at or enjoyed. I was going to finish up this semester of music education and then decide where to go from there.

After looking into all the options I saw two possible paths, either get a general degree and graduate ASAP or I could switch to another degree and stick it out for a while longer. This time I was convinced I needed to let others in on my decision. I talked to some friends and my roommate who was a teacher Zak Rozler, about what he thought I should do. He encouraged me that while Music Ed did not work out, that he believed I could be a great teacher. I’ll admit I was tempted several times to take the shortcut, get the general degree and be done with college now and save two years. I prayed about this, talked to family and friends and in the end I decided I was done with the shortcuts. The first one I took by going with music education, assuming I could do the easy stuff first then worry later about the hard things (learning piano for instance) had already costed me four years of college.

I switched into my Integrated Language Arts degree and to my great surprise, I loved it. The classes were fun and engaging, I was actually good at it. I started raising my grades, and my last three semesters I have made the deans list. This phase of my schooling has been the best of my college career by far. I am sorry for the extremely long background but I felt it necessary to get it out there and be totally candid about how I have been in college for seven years. Yes, almost two bachelors degrees worth of time. Not going to lie, at times I am really embarrassed of how long it took me to get my school life together. It requires me to admit that I messed, I failed.

While I wanted to just get it all out there about my schooling I want the bigger point to be this. I can not make my life work work by myself. I need God. His plan is so much better than my plan.

“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” Jeremiah 29:11 (ESV)

God is my hope, he’s gotten me so much farther than I ever would have thought possible from a few years ago.

As I approach the end of my college experience I look back and just am filled with so much joy about the things the lord has done in this time of my life. I have numerous friends who I love dearly, a loving girlfriend who encourages me daily. Roommates who I can laugh and cry with. The lord has been able to use me to help bring people to him, lead a house of truly compassionate men, and be part of amazing discipleships. The last seven years has been hard, the most challenging in my life but also the most joyful.

So to wrap up this way too long post (thanks for bearing with me). Let the lord guide your path, his plan is way better than our plan. He wants desperately to be there to support and love you. In Matthew six Jesus talks about how we should not worry about what we will eat, drink, or wear for when we are seeking him first he will provide for our needs.

“But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” Matthew 6:33 (NIV)

God provides, he truly does, he did with me. So while it took me a lot longer than most to finally get through college, I am so glad I did not wait to make the decision to live for the lord. There is no shortcuts when it comes to following God, follow him, rely on him. It isn’t always easy, but it is always fulfilling and a life of love and joy.

And for a life like that I don’t mind taking the long way round.

Lessons from Daniel & a 6 month old

Baby Jay made it to 6 months today! And wow, I can’t believe we made it. 

Recently, I got to teach on Daniel & the lion’s den from Daniel 6 at our Bible study. To my surprise, a point I focused in on was gratitude. I think God really put that one on my heart for myself… I struggle with gratitude. My strength is in negativity & I’ve learned over the years the opposite of negativity is actually gratitude. I’m such a stupid little butthole that I’d look at the people who could be positive all the time & just assume they were lying or looking for attention. Now, I strive to be them.

Because, I have a lot to be grateful for. More than I can understand or my ungrateful, negative heart can even see… Well, choosing to be grateful has made a real difference in my life. Especially in the midst of raising a kid. I was just at the point where I felt like I was starting to lose myself. All of my thoughts are about the baby or my basic needs (like when I was going to eat & shower. But not: what is God doing in my life, how are my friendships going, who can I love today…) I was starting to feel hopeless, but I thought that was just normal. Then, I got to look into Daniel & how he responded to suffering. 

Now, let me preface this: when I started studying Daniel, I thought: there is NO WAY in hell I’m going to compare my life to his! He was kidnapped at a young age, raised/brainwashed into a new culture, faced multiple death threats because he believed in God. Now, I can relate to absolutely none of those things. Yet, he sets an example, as I learned – in the face of fear, run to God, no matter the situation. I think the danger is letting “little” circumstances in life pile up thinking I can handle this myself. Then, one day, you’re isolated, only knowing how to deal with the big stuff alone. So, in the mundane, we need to learn to seek the Lord for help so when the big trials come, we can stand firm no matter what. And that’s what I got to see in Daniel. Between his trials, he prayed and thanked the Lord. He made that a habit. I think Daniel could see God more clearly than I ever could and this knowledge urged him to praise and thanks the living God. I trust his insight and have felt the need to follow his example. 

Let me tell you what, gratitude does change it all. And even when I’m in pain, or afraid, or feel like I’ve ruined everything & everyone hates me – being grateful changes your entire perspective on life. Even being alive is something to be grateful for every day! 

Another thing I’ve really been grateful for in my gratitude lesson lately is grace. Being a mom has changed me, and not in all the best ways. Again, my thinking has totally changed as my life has. And frankly, it’s really inward. Even though I’m thinking of my kid all the time, it’s still my kid, my time, my schedule. I see how much more rigid I’ve become. It’s scary… I remember being so carefree. I long to be like that now. To be like my sister or my own mom – they’re really great examples I want to be like someday because they will literally drop everything if I ask for help. No schedule gets in their way! No tiredness or just feeling sad… And my sister has a toddler & a baby on the way! Jeez, it’s so cool. But yeah, that’s not me. I’m much more scheduled and planned than I thought. I knew I was controlling, but actually, turns out, I’m a control freak. And that sucks. I’m seeing how much that hurts my friendships, my marriage & misses opportunities the Lord has probably been putting in front of me to take. Those exciting adventures he puts in front of you that you can easily miss if you’re sticking to your plan for the day (all about me!) So, grace has really been huge to me lately. In so many ways I am not a good person. So many nights I fall asleep thinking about all the ways I was mean, rigid, judgmental, hurtful… But then, Jesus enters the conversation: and he says, I forgive you. And then my friends enter the conversation, my husband too, my family – and they forgive me for my inward, controlling ways. 

I had the pleasure of catching up with a friend and our conversation ended on “being quick to repent.” She’s a strong willed lady whose been through some crap in her life. And now, she’s so quick to acknowledge her own sin and move forward with the Lord. I’ve been trying to practice this as I see my sin lately. It’s been so freeing! Instead of sitting in guilt or promising to be better next time – simply saying, “I messed up, I’m sorry” – wow. That’s it! That’s all I can do! I can’t fix myself. I pray for me, for my friends, that we can all learn to be quick to repent. To say: yeah, I’m not good, I mess up, can you forgive me? Then go on living & learning. I hate how much I hate being wrong or wronged. But how many times a day do I wrong others? The only solution is grace. I am very thankful for my friends that have stuck in there with me through it all. I am so far from a good friend. I get in my head, I get insecure, I get jealous which leads to imaginative feuds and conversations and bitterness. All because I think I know, my negativity, and my inward thinking. Where would I be without Jesus? Completely alone. Or with some sorry souls that would be so annoyed with me every day! 

All that to say, I’m really grateful for my baby. I think in some ways God has been using him to teach me about gratitude, too. He literally smiles at everything. I am astonished. Where did this happy baby come from? Zak & I aren’t the most fun people. Our idea of fun is a good book & some good beer with a quiet night pondering the depth of the universe… not everybody’s cup of tea. Definitely not fun. But this guy, wooooohoooo, he’s a good time. He laughs & laughs. He observes & coos at all the new things he’s learning. He begs for you to relate to him every second and loves everyone that will give him any attention… Wow. I feel like I’m really learning what Jesus means when he says that the Kingdom of God belongs to little children. This audacity & innocence to enjoy life is what it must be like when all you know is love, security & see through a lens of excitement… it is what it must be to be close to a loving Father, God! May he keep teaching me gratitude through this little guy
And here’s a pic if that’s what you came here for: 

Jay is 6 months!

Thanks for reading this. I really like writing. I’m really grateful for the time to sit down & write today. And I’m really grateful that my little, limited life here in Ohio that is so absolutely small & meaningless, is actually rather significant to God. 

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… 

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