Faves from my Library (Part 1)

Sometimes it seems like reading has become a lost art. We are inundated with internet, social media, video games, and television. Not to mention that in general, our lives have gotten so much busier in the last few decades. Yes, we still read articles and for educational purposes; but when do we just read for the joy of discovery and learning?
 
As a child I loved to read, and I still do but sometimes months pass and I haven’t read a single book. So this year for lent I decided to extremely limit my time on my phone and the internet and take to read for fun and spend more time studying my bible. I want to share four of the books that I have read recently (some before lent) that have had an impact on my life.
 
Is the journey of a young woman (Katie Davis (Majors)) who desires to spend some time in Uganda after high school, and ends up making her home there. This story convicted and challenged me, as well as encouraged me. Katie’s passion for Jesus and loving the ONE that God puts in front of her, takes her on a discovery of radical love as she adopts 13 little girls and establishes a ministry that has impacted thousands. I would highly recommend this book to anyone; you will laugh and cry along with Katie and your heart will be touched in ways you can’t imagine.
 
This is one of my all-time favorites. I first discovered it after returning from Ethiopia. I was struggling with the faith that I saw being lived out by many Christians (especially in America). I knew something was missing; David Platt confronts just that, as he challenges us to consider how we’ve manipulated the gospel to fit into our cultural desires. What would it look like if, as a whole, Christians started living the way Jesus and the New Testament  Christians did? This book may just completely rock your faith and turn your perspective around. A convicting and challenging read for teens and adults alike!
 
I shared this book in another post; I absolutely love the raw openness about relationships, dating, marriage, and sex. It is so real and honest. That being said, it is definitely geared more towards college age and up. Jefferson and Alyssa Bethke confront the distorted views of relationships, marriage, and sex that both our culture and  (unfortunately, sometimes) the church has taught us. If you are thinking of getting married someday, dating, engaged, or married, I would implore to consider reading it….Get ready to be challenged and rocked with some radical truths about love!
 
This book is specifically written for adults in their late twenties and older. But I read it before I even started college (and twice since). I recommend it to any adult that cares about people growing in Christ and the future of the church.  It is co-written by three authors and confronts the growing loss of college students and young adults in the church and to their faith. And the problem is…if we continue letting them go, we may never see them again. Discover why YOU matter in the story of twentysomethings.
 
I completely understand if you aren’t a big reader. But I would definitely encourage you to invest some time into reading. There are SOO many amazing books out there (especially in regards to faith). And in this age of consumption (television, social media, video games), reading is a form of consumption that also leads to thinking, discovery, and creation. Also, I am always looking for new books to read, so I’d love to hear more to add to the list!

Where My Feet May Fail

Recently I’ve had the opportunity to go to the beach and, not to my surprise, it is just as beautiful in the winter as in the summer. The white sand beneath my feet, the foamy waves slapping the shore, and the smell of salt in the air. There is something special about the beach, something different.
 
Standing at the edge of the water, staring out into the ocean. There is nowhere else that I can be facing one direction looking at the houses and all the people and then I can turn around and its all gone. Completely gone, nothing except for the unending waters and sky stretched before me. God’s creation. I realize just how small I am and how big the world is. I am reminded of the song, Oceans (Where my feet may fail), from Hillsong United. It starts off with the words:
 
“You call me out upon the waters 
The great unknown where feet may fail
And there I find You in the mystery 
in oceans deep mfaith will stand”
 
So much of my life is unknown. Whether or not I am following God, I do not know what is coming in the next two years, let alone the next hour. But when I choose to live for God I am saying that I will go wherever he sends me. This is so much easier said than done; sometimes I doubt God multiple times a day and I often feel unworthy and unable to do what he has asked me to.
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“And I will call upon Your name
And keep my eyes above the waves
When oceans rise
My soul will rest in Your embrace
For I am Yours and You are mine
Your grace abounds in deepest waters 
Your sovereign hand 
Will be my guide
Where my feet may fail and fear surrounds me
You’ve never failed and You won’t start now”
 
But 2 Corinithians 12:9b reminds me, that “God’s power is made perfect in MY weakness”. Without my faith in God I will fail. But it is his power that allows me to carry forward. When I call on Him, when I keep my eyes on him, when I rest in Him-I can follow where he leads me. And this song does a really good job at summing up how I want to live and how God wants me to live.
 
It is because of God’s grace that I am here today. I fail; I am not enough. I would drown in a never ending ocean. But when God is carrying me, the unknown is no longer scary, but a place to grow closer to God. It is a place where I can more fully rely on him.
 
So when I feel like I am drowning and my troubles begin to overtake me, I can close my eyes and picture the ocean before my with my world and troubles behind me. The words from Oceans flow through my head and I am reminded that God has called me out upon the sea. And he will not fail me. To me, standing out on the beach not only reminds me how big God is or how marvelous his creation is, but also that I am his and that in his grace I can call to him, rest in him, and follow him. 
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“I will call upon Your name
Keep my eyes above the waves 
My soul will rest in Your embrace
I am Yours and you are mine

Fighting for Life: In response to all the posts going around about New York

The last few days have been very painful for me. Many times I have been able to hold back tears, but other moments I feel a gut wrenching pain and I can’t help but sob. I honestly never thought this is something I would write about until I actually sat down to write it. While I have always cared about life, I’m not one to engage with politics on social media or argue with others about their opinions. And this is NOT a political post, my pain is for the abortion situation in general-But in light of New York’s recent decision, abortion and the sanctity of life have been on my heart more than ever and now I feel obligated to share my heart.
 
I spend a lot of my time working with children and babies. So as my thoughts are overcome with the decision in New York and the many other abortions happening in the country; my head is filled with images of wiggling baby toes, chubby little fingers as they learn to wave, clap, and blow kisses, and the laughter and joy of an infant as he/she discovers the world around them. I think of what the children I have cared for are growing up to be and the impact they have on the world. And my heart is completely in a devastated state for the millions of lives that will never be. The lives that ended before they even got a chance to LIVE.
 
Before I continue, if you are someone who has ever had an abortion, considered an abortion, or know someone who has; I am not here to judge or condemn and I am definitely not angry with you. I know people in my life who have made that decision at some point. My heart actually really hurts for you, dear one, that you were in that position at all. That you even felt the need to make such a difficult decision and that you didn’t have the the support system and situation that would have been necessary for raising a child. I love you and I feel for you. And God loves you, your decision did not change that.
 
I know that I am not the only one pained about New York’s bill and the overall abortion crisis in America. I have seen and heard many sad responses in the last few days. Maybe you are one of those people who voted pro-life or participated in the walk for life. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with doing this. However, we are at a point where the church as a WHOLE needs to embrace that fact that being pro-life does not begin and end at birth. Abortion itself is not the root of the issue, if we can stand together and tackle the root. Then we may truly begin to see a shift in the staggering abortion statistics.
 
Voting and marching are good beginner steps, but if we are truly pro-life it cannot end there. Part of the agony I feel, is also that I know that we can be doing more and sometimes we miss the mark by just focusing on politics. Being pro-life is also about supporting crisis pregnancy centers (volunteering or financially), it’s about reaching out to the single mom and her kids in your neighborhood, or as a church supporting organizations or starting programs that support single mothers. It’s about mentoring and loving on teenagers, both girls and boys and making sure they are educated both traditionally and spiritually. It’s about making foster care and adoption a priority in the church rather than a last resort (abortions decreasing inevitably mean an increase of children needing both short term and permanent homes). It’s about the church standing together and showing that we are pro-life the whole way through.
 
My in-laws are friends with a family where the husband was a Flight Nurse and he came in contact with a young woman who was planning on aborting her child. After speaking with his wife and clocking out, he approached the girl and asked if she would reconsider abortion if he and his wife adopted her baby. She agreed and the man and his wife now are raising a beautiful toddler whose life almost ended before birth. This family did not just say abortion was wrong, they did not just berate her for her decision; but they offered her a tangible alternative. Imagine what this would look like if the WHOLE church stood together and did this!
 
It is no secret that we live in a broken and hurting world. Abortion is one result of that brokenness. It is okay to be angered and hurting by the current situation, but let us not just sit in that pain. Yes there are unborn babies that need us, but there are also pregnant moms, single moms, low-income families, and hurting teenagers that need us. So if you feel agony over New York’s bill and other recent bills…you are not alone. Keep voting and keep marching…but will you stand with me and do more? Church…will we step up and WITH LOVE, show our communities, our states, and our country that ALL life matters?
 
Psalm 139:13-14 “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, because I am fearfully and wonderfully made.”
 
James 1:27 “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” 

 

In 7 months of marriage…

The last seven months have completely flown by. It feels like only a few days ago that I said “I do” to my best friend. In that short time we have both switched careers, I worked with refugees in Greece, we’ve moved, and we’ve started getting more involved with ministry. It has been hectic to say the least. At this point some people are still in the honeymoon stage, and some days we are…but other days we aren’t. We’ve definitely had some big challenges to handle since getting married.
 
And I have learned so so much in these first seven months. I know by now some of you are rolling your eyes, thinking “talk to me in 5 years…or 30 years”. I’m not completely naive…I know there is so much we haven’t had to deal with and I know there will be times where giving up would be an easy option. However, I know that Phil is the ONE for me…because I chose to marry him and we made that commitment before God. I also know that our marriage has already lasted longer than some people I know, and that truly breaks my heart.
 
A Christian girl I knew said, after her marriage lasted less than a year, “that she just wasn’t happy”. Other common reasons are that “I was just no longer in love” or “The person I married changed” or “They just weren’t the one”. All of this pains me deeply, because that’s not what marriage is about. I do understand that there are some situations in which separation is necessary, but our culture (even Christian culture) has allowed divorce to become an easy out. Not only that…but our view of love and what marriages is has become so marred and distorted.
 
We think it should be an easy fairytale…all fun and no hardships. We act like there is only “one” person in the entire world that is right for us. We kid ourselves that love is always about the FEELING and WHAT we will get out of it. But the truth is, loving someone is a choice (even when the feeling isn’t there). A wonderful book I recently read (Love that Lasts) states it so well…
 
“How do I know my wife is the one? Because I married her. She become “the one” the minute I committed my life to her. I know it’s really unromantic, but Alyssa and I agree that we both could’ve married someone else and probably been totally happy and had a great life. 
 
It’s not about finding the mythical magical unicorn but about finding someone who will be a great partner for life. And frankly, “the one” doesn’t really make sense from a logical standpoint. All it would take is for one guy fifteen hundred years ago to marry the wrong person (not the one for him), and he would create an endless cycle all the way down to you and me, since he married someone else’s “the one” and so on and so on…..
 
In God’s providence, there is a certain level of weaving and moving and bringing two people together. If you’re not already married, it’s possible God has someone for you who you might not even know yet. So we have to be careful. Alyssa and I have seen people justify divorce because, well, their spouse just wasn’t the one. For Alyssa and me, it was incredibly freeing when we realized that there were plenty of people we could have married, but we chose each other. That’s what matters…
 
True love is doing the laundry when you usually don’t because your spouse needs a break. True love is choosing to love even when you don’t feel like it. Every single day.True love is saying sorry for the one-millionth time. True love is always searching for ways to serve the other….”
 
So yes, Phil and I have only been married 7 months. And some days we don’t like each other very much. However, we always choose to love each other. We are learning that it’s okay to not always agree, that couples who’ve been married 30 or 40 years sometimes fight, and that sometimes we will annoy each other. Marriage isn’t supposed to be easy. It’s about having a partner to fight through the tough stuff (even when the ‘tough stuff’ might be each other). It’s about honoring the commitment you made before God. It’s about self-sacrificial love and serving each other and God together.
 
One of our mentors told us, that the biggest thing we can do for the church is to FIGHT for our marriage. Because Satan wants to destroy the church and us from the inside out. Satan doesn’t want couples putting aside selfish desires and serving each other. What is stronger than an individual serving the kingdom of God? A couple- a team (a family) serving the kingdom of God. God has so much more than “happiness” for us and for others who choose to fight for their marriages.
 
I’m sorry this post has gotten longer than I originally meant it to, but the last 7 months have made me passionate about my marriage and fighting for marriage. So if you’ve stuck it out so far, I appreciate it. Not only do I care about Phil and my relationship and serving God with our lives (together as a team), but I care about more deeply for the sanctity of marriage in general. I am SOO excited for what God has for us in the upcoming months, as well as the opportunities we will have to grow together and continue serving God through our marriage.
 
Love Always,
Lauren
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If you are in a dating relationship, engaged, or married, or even just desire to be married some day, I HIGHLY recommend Love that Lasts by Jeff and Alyssa Bethke. It’s an easy and fun read…as well as encouraging, helpful, and challenging!
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What is your word for 2019?

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As we came to the end of the of 2018, I found myself reflecting on the last year. There were so many joys and fun memories, as well as challenges and struggles. Moving into 2019, I have many dreams, hopes, and desires. Quite a few people around me, were talking about the word that God gave them for 2019…so I started praying to see what God wanted for me this upcoming year.
 
I have dreams for a home (more on that later), paying off loans, working in ministry, traveling, and growing even more in my relationship with my husband (Phil). But it’s easy to get carried away and forget to ask God what He wants. So as I was praying I kept hearing one word, “MORE”. Specifically “More of Him”. God has wonderful plans for me and I have so many desires to serve him in my life. But more than anything, God wants to give me HIMSELF.
 
There is nothing wrong with having plans, and wanting to do things to help others and serve the Lord…but more than anything I (we) need HIM. So even if I don’t get the home I’m dreaming of, even if finances don’t start looking up, even if ministry and traveling seem on hold, even if I have difficulties in my marriage, I have God. And that is more than I even deserve.
 

So what about you? We all have dreams and desires…you may have specific anticipations for what the new year will hold for you. But what is God speaking to you, What word does he have for you this year? What does he want you to strive for this year? Maybe it is healing, maybe it is renewal, maybe it is adventure. Whatever it is, God wants to give you MORE of himself throughout the journey.

 
“Slowly, I was beginning to understand that it wasn’t my productivity that God desired; it was my heart. It wasn’t my ministry God loved; it was me. God was glorified, is glorified, when we give him our hearts, give him ourselves, and faithfully do the thing right in front of us, no matter how small or trivial.” -Katie Davis Majors (from Daring to Hope).

 

Clean Slates

F034E2F5-31E5-4F23-A4E4-BF851B6E5E25Do you ever say something and immediately wish you could take it back? Or are in the middle of a situation that is going wrong and realize it started off with some little mistakes a few months back? I think that many of us have moments that we wish we could take back or start over. For many people, thoughts of fresh starts are especially on our minds as the new year starts. We have New Year resolutations, want to make new habits, and might even find ourselves wishing for a clean slate. 
 
The idea of a clean slate is actually pretty interesting. Imagine a blackboard that was covered in all colors of chalk from white to green to red. It has been written and drawn on over and over for months or even years, and even when you erase it there are still shadows or bits of smeared dust, left as evidence of what has been on it before. No matter how much you try to erase the slate there will still be evidence of previous use. To truly be clean and look like new, someone needs to use a sponge and clean water to clean the entire blackboard. 
 
There are times that I just wish I could have a clean slate with somebody, or even with my life in general. I have seen people agree to a “start fresh” with a “clean slate” with somebody in their lives, and I know that I have done this before as well. But it is so much easier said than done. We are humans. No matter how close we are with God we are still broken. I think of the saying “to forgive and forget”, in reality it is more like forgive and let go. 
 
Because no matter how much we try to forget, even if we have forgiven, things that happened in the past still affect our responses and how we see certain situations. I often get irritated when someone responds a certain way because of something I’ve done in the past, and I think “Can’t you just forget it? Can’t you give me the chance to change?”, but then time goes by and I find myself guilty of the same thing. 
 
This is discouraging because it makes it much harder to change when you or other people cannot let go of the past. And it often makes it hard to have healthy relationships. I look around and realize that there is no human that can give me a completely clean slate. But there is God. Our amazing Creator who made and CHOSE each and everyone of us. I am so undeserving of His love. 
 
The choices I have made have hurt Him even more than they have hurt myself or anybody else. But He, our omnipotent, perfect God, has the ability to completely forget our sins. His son took the burden of all of our sins upon himself, yet can also give us a clean slate and wipe away all reminance of our pasts? I am in awe just thinking about this. So yeah, I will never find a person in my life who I completely have a clean slate with, but I do have God. And despite everything I’ve done, He forgives me and hands me a clean slate with no evidence of my mistakes from the past. With Him, we can always start fresh. 
 
Isaiah 43:25, “I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sin no more.”

A Journal Entry: Christmas Reflections

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I’m not going to lie and say that I didn’t have ideals for what I pictured for this Christmas. Going out to a tree farm to pick the perfect tree, together. Celebrating our first Christmas as married couple, in our own cozy little apartment. Decorating our tree with twinkling white lights, popcorn garland, and handmade ornaments. Wrapping colorful packages to place under our tree. Wearing cute matching pjs on Christmas Eve. You name it. I’m all about the traditions. 
 
I’ll stop myself there…because I know that’s not what Christmas is about. But I couldn’t help it, I wanted the family Christmas traditions that I’ve longed for to start this year. However, that’s just not where we are. For the most part I was trying to have a good attitude, but was still in denial about the state of my heart. Until Saturday morning. We were sitting in a church auditorium, beautifully decorated for Christmas with many people that we didn’t know. All of us were there to mourn (AND) celebrate the loss and life of our friend, Bryant. A man that Phil and I only knew briefly through our church…but he had an immediate impact on us. 
 
And we weren’t the only ones. There were hundreds of others that had been impacted by this dear man (there weren’t even enough seats for everyone). To many people in the world the atmosphere full of both grief and loss, but also joy and hope at a funeral would be quite foreign. As we stood to sing and worship God I was struck by the lyrics of a song, “Turn your eyes upon Jesus…look full in his wonderful face. And all the things of this earth will grow strangely dim. In the light of His glory and grace.” I felt my heart drop a bit, and I knew it was time to examine my heart. 
 
Even though I desire to follow Jesus closely and be all about him, I can still easily get caught up in the ways of the world. And none of the holiday traditions that I had in mind were wrong in themselves, but I had let these desires get in the way of what really mattered. As we finished up the song, with tears running down my face, I confessed and apologized to the Lord for my attitude. With as disappointed as I had felt about not having my dream Christmas, I cannot imagine the disappointment and pain that God was feeling to see his beloved daughter take her eyes off Him and allow the things of the world to be her focus. 
 
During the remainder of the service I continued to hear more lyrics, stories, and a message that point towards Jesus as the center of everything. You only had to know Bryant for a few minutes to see that he was all about Jesus. From his marriage, to his zest for life, to his laugh; Bryant examplified how the broken and imperfect can be made beautiful and redemptive through Christ. That is what Christmas is really about. Jesus who sacrificed his perfect life, to enter into the pain and hardship of the realities of this world. Not for himself, but for you and for me and even for those who choose to ignore the depth of his love. 
 
 Through both tears and laughter, I left the memorial service with a refreshed perspective. I found joy in our little plastic tree, ice skating with friends, painting, playing games, and time with my wonderful hubby. We have the rest of our lives to develop traditions; we also have the rest of our lives to grow in our marriage and lives, exemplifying the love of Christ for each of us and choosing to “Keep our eyes upon Jesus”. I have often heard people say “that Jesus is the reason for the season”, and this Christmas season I needed the reminder that Jesus is the reason for THIS season that we are currently in, and every season. 
 
“Oh soul are you weary and trouble? No light in the darkness you see? There’s light for a look at the Savior and life more abundant and free”