All posts by carissajoy

About carissajoy

My name is Carissa. I like to write, read, and be inspired.

What I read: January 2018

Welcome to the first of my monthly installments of the books I’m reading! Per my 2018 goal, I’ll be keeping track of all the books I’ve read this year here, in pursuit of reading over 30 books.

This month, I’ve started and finished a lot of things. I finished rewatching Gilmore Girls, started and finished One Day at a Time season 1, and obviously am caught up on The Bachelor.

I also started so many books–there are 5 books with varying pages bookmarked on my bedside table as I write–but I only crossed the finish line with two. I’m still reading plenty, especially as I’m teaching The Odyssey in my freshman class and The Namesake in honors, but I got fewer chances to read “me” books.

So, January was good, and February should be a good month of finishing what I started!

Here’s my two January reads:

1. Paper Towns, John Green

I’ve lost count of how often my students mention their love for John Green’s books. I had a student last semester who went to the book tour for the release of Turtles All the Way Down and gave me a John Green canvas bag, and I couldn’t in good conscience use this bag without reading a John Green book. That’s the true story of why I bought Paper Towns.

My reaction to my first John Green book: I think 2008 Carissa would have absolutely loved it, and I’m disappointed I didn’t read his fiction earlier. He writes about distinctly high school emotions, and his style is engaging and moves quickly. Reading his fiction as an English teacher provides me with a different perspective: throughout the book, I felt like he was winking at me–helping me do my job better, for example, by placing the notoriously challenging Whitman poem “Leaves of Grass” at the center and making it seem accessible and even cool.

So, even though I’m no longer a huge YA fiction reader, I can appreciate John Green on multiple levels. The best part is that I think reading this book will make students good readers, so I’m glad to have this book under my belt to discuss it with them.

Now the real question, friends: has anyone seen the movie, and is it worth watching?

2. The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness, Timothy Keller

This short treatise was the foundation of a book I read last year, Free of Me. The back cover describes it as “punchy,” which is accurate. Keller gets right to the point and makes it clearly and effectively. I’ll be rolling around a few sentences in my mind for weeks.

Here’s his main idea: “True gospel-humility means I stop connecting every experience, every conversation, with myself. In fact, I stop thinking about myself. The freedom of self-forgetfulness. The blessed rest that only self-forgetfulness brings.”

This is a book you could feasibly read in an hour or two, and it’s worth it. It’s shifted how I view the “self-esteem” vibes that we give to our teenagers and how I view my own faith.

Well, that’s my January reads! I have some fun books on deck: some fiction, nonfiction, and just-for-fun books that I’ll report back on in February!

2017 In Review

Well, once again I find myself summarizing an entire year. This is the third year I’ll write a recap of my goals–though I’m publishing it a little late–and I’m glad to have a record of 2015 and 2016. Every year brings new and unexpected and wonderful things.

This year has been transformative in my life. In January 2017, I couldn’t have dreamed up what my life would look like in December 2017. Actually, if you asked me to describe my dream life, I’d have described something very close to what I did in 2017.

Some of the highlights:

  • I helped put on a conference at work (and learned a lot from the process).
  • I interviewed for (and was offered) three teaching jobs in California, and I accepted one.
  • I packed my life into my SUV and drove across the country with two of my best friends, making stops along the way like Chicago and Omaha.
  • My family visited Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons.
  • I moved to Fremont, CA to teach English to high schoolers.
  • I flew halfway around the world to Poznan, Poland to stand beside a dear friend as she married the perfect guy for her, and I walked through the fascinating city of Berlin, Germany.

Life is surprising, and suddenly everything is different. When I made my goals in 2017, I had no idea what was ahead!

2017 Goals

Rest well.

The Bible commands us to rest, and for good reason: taking a day each week to rest is crucial to our health and wellness. I began to take this seriously in 2016 and continued to reap the benefits in 2017 of one day per week of intentional rest mentally, physically, and emotionally.

I’ve continued that pattern in my teaching job, where it is even more important to resist the temptation to work nonstop and burn myself out. Rest gives me more energy and mental space to do well the rest of the week, and I want to always remember this.

Be strong.

When I landed a position as Jump Fit instructor for the local trampoline park (yeah, still the coolest job I’ve had), I began training for this new form of fitness and studying group fitness instructing, physiology, and the many components of leading people in exercise. I made some great friendships and had an amazing time. I continue to fight for fitness and health to be a constant staple in my life through running, cycling, and hiking, and I’ve established a pattern of eating that supplements a strong lifestyle.

Read books.

Last year, I set a personal goal to read a book every two weeks, or 26 books in total. I proudly crossed the finish line to 30 books this year, surpassing that goal.

2018 Goals

Keep reading books.

I am so glad that I documented the books I read this year. My memory isn’t strong, so I would have likely thought I didn’t get that much done without seeing it all listed.

This year, I plan to document the books month-to-month, and I want to read at least 30 books.

Delve into the work I’ve been given.

I’ve jumped into so many new places here in California: I joined the core leadership team at my church, Foundry, signed up to be the girls softball coach at my school, and continue to be committed to educating my students well at work. I’ve got plenty of meaningful things to do.

I don’t want to get distracted this year by shiny new opportunities, which is my tendency. This season of life is not a phase, a holding tank until I move on to the next thing. God has abundantly filled my plate, and He’s tasked me with managing the gifts I have right now for the foreseeable future, so I want to sink my heels in and work for the long haul. It’s less glamorous than exciting announcements and life changes, but it’s the kind of faithfulness and obedience that constitutes a well-lived life.

Well, it’s been an incredible year. Thank you, friends–old and new–for bearing with me. Let’s dig in this year!

2017 Books in Review.

Alternate Title: The Big Ol’ Book Roundup

A year ago on January 1, I resolved to read more books in 2017. A book every two weeks, to be specific.

Two years of reading like it was my job in grad school burned me out, and I needed a grace period to enjoy reading again. But largely due to many of these books, I’m refreshed and reminded why I’m a lifelong student of literature.

For accountability and my own record-keeping, I posted a picture of each book on Instagram under the hashtag #carissareads. I’m so glad I (finally) followed through on a resolution because it’s been endlessly fun to look back and reflect on what I’ve read.

Without further ado, here they are: my 2017 book collection. I recommend them all on varying levels (from “this will flip you inside out” to “I don’t hate it”).

Enjoy.


If you want to read the book before you see the movie…

Wonder – RJ Palacio

Heartbreaking, heartwarming, will make you a kinder human being. (And make you want the same for your kids or students or neighbors or siblings.)

The Glass Castle – Jeannette Walls

Both the book and the movie will draw you in and rip out your heart. (So you should experience them.)

Life of Pi – Yann Martel

I still remember how I felt coming out of the movie theater several years ago after this film, and the book gave me that same feeling. It’s surreal and deeply human.

If you want to see a fresh vision for church, prayer and community…

Oikonomics – Mike Breen

I read this book right before meeting and hosting Mike Breen for a conference. This guy gets it and is moving the church in a good direction, and he’s got a great accent.

Falling Free – Shannan Martin

Another author who gets it and is passionate about being the person who sees the marginalized and going straight to them with courage and Christlike love.

Love Lives Here – Maria Goff

Sweet Maria is one of those women that you want to sip coffee with for hours and just listen. I loved her perspective on hospitality and faithfulness in small details, which beautifully complements the wildness of her husband Bob.

Whisper – Mark Batterson

All I knew about Mark Batterson before I joined his book launch team was that I’d visited his coffee shop in DC. This book was an interesting read to see his perspective on the important topic of hearing God’s voice.

If you want a casual, feel-good read…

Scrappy Little Nobody – Anna Kendrick

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I love celebrity memoirs. As a student of literature, I don’t think they belong in the same 50-mile radius as most serious books, but they’re super fun behind-the-scenes glimpses into celebrity lives, and I’m all the way in.

Girl, Wash Your Face – Rachel Hollis

Rachel Hollis is a lifestyle blogger and party planner in LA, so this book was a different kind of celebrity memoir. Again, I’m not inducting it into the hall of literary classics anytime soon, but it was fun to read anyway. (And I got it for free by being on her launch team, so no complaints. PS – It releases Feb. 6 and there’s preorder goodies.)

Of Mess and Moxie – Jen Hatmaker

Jen Hatmaker is the fun aunt that everyone needs. I’ll keep reading every word she writes, whether it has profound ramifications for social justice and the Gospel or she’s telling a crazy story about her life. She also makes me laugh out loud in public.

If you want engaging, good fiction…

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore – Robin Sloan

After that post-grad school slump, this was the book that reminded me why I love to read.

Housekeeping – Marilynne Robinson

I could read Robinson’s books over and over for the rest of my years and never soak up all the beautiful insights on faith that she weaves into her stories.

The Girl who Played with Fire – Stieg Larsson

Once I start his fiction, I cannot put it down. This is engaging, well-woven storytelling.

If you want to be inspired to live differently…

Let’s All Be Brave – Annie Downs

I love when I hear the right thing the right time. I read this book on my flight to California to interview for teaching jobs, and there’s no time when you need to be brave more than planning a cross-country move.

Through Painted Deserts – Donald Miller

This book was perfectly timed too–while Don documented his cross-country road trip, I was on my own. The rest of the book is neat, but the Author’s Note of this book is the theme song to my Virginia-to-California transition.

(That 2-page section is in the Amazon book preview, so if you’re in a season of transition, go click on the book cover & scroll down to the section titled “Author’s Note.”)

Scary Close – Donald Miller

Okay, I went through a bit of a Don Miller phase this summer. And for good reason: his books challenge me and make me feel seen. Sometimes like an X-ray. Sometimes that’s uncomfortable. It’s fine, I’m fine.

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle – Barbara Kingsolver

In the last few years, I’ve learned so much about sustainability in our food systems and the value of eating whole, clean, and responsibly. (Shoutout to Lynchburg Grows & Imperfect Produce.) So to read about how a family grew all their own food for a year and studied the state of food in America? A little piece of heaven.

If you want to learn from someone who leads by example…

Free of Me – Sharon Hodde Miller

This year, I learned about book launch teams and subsequently joined a million. (Okay, like 5 or 6.) This book was so easy to promote because the message is true and important for every person’s faith. I gifted it for Christmas, read a passage for a staff devotion, and reread several chapters. The book is awesome, Sharon is a fantastic leader, and I am a total fangirl.

Tramp for the Lord – Corrie Ten Boom

What a fierce little lady. This book is no-nonsense conviction from a woman who was tested and proved to be faithful.

The Sacrament of Happy – Lisa Harper

This author is the most joyful woman you could ever follow on Instagram, and her book sings the same tune.

Blue Like Jazz – Donald Miller

Okay, one more book from my new best friend, Don. Everyone and their pastor’s mom read this book in like 2006, but when I read it in 2017 the timing was perfect, and it hit me square between the eyes.

Daring to Hope – Katie Davis Majors

Katie has lived about 100 lifetimes in her adult years in Uganda as a wife and mom of 14, and this book shows it.

If you want a well-loved classic…

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn – Mark Twain

The last time I read this book, I was a junior in high school, so I loved rereading it with my junior class. Even though my students struggled with the dialect, they also had some good, important conversations.

The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald

I skipped this book in high school, so when I was assigned to teach American Literature this year, I figured I couldn’t take the job in good conscience until I’d read it. I’m excited to read it again with my juniors this year.

Lord of the Flies – William Golding

Another classic that I skipped in school. What crazy person hired me as a high school English teacher, anyway? I somehow made it through life without hearing spoilers, so I was shocked, disturbed, and intrigued right alongside my 9th graders.

If you want a new perspective on a tough issue…

The Poisonwood Bible – Barbara Kingsolver

This novel drew me into a world I’d never been to before. It stares into the face of colonialism and family dynamics through a million poignant moments.

The House on Mango Street – Sandra Cisneros

Rereading this book was moving, and watching my 9th grade students study the topic of identity through these vignettes was an amazing experience.

Convicted – Jameel McGee & Andrew Collins

This is another tale of a white cop and a black man who’s wrongfully convicted, but instead of the anger and heartbreak and injustice we see too often on the news, they experience reconciliation. It’s a special story that gave me a sliver of hope.

Party of One – Joy Beth Smith

I loved that this book debunked so much of my weird upbringing in purity culture surrounded by messages on marriage but unsure what to do with myself in the meantime (or my whole life) besides “wait.” I’m glad JB had the courage to write it all down, and when the book comes out in February, I know it will help a lot of people.


Wow! What a random, fun collection of my 29 books from this year. I’m hopeful, expectant, and ready for more great works in 2018.

My new reading goal is to meet or beat 2017’s tally. What’s yours?

On the benefits of flying solo.

I tell myself a lot that I am not going to become one of those writers who only thinks and talks about “singleness” or calls myself a “single.” (As if I’m a slice of Kraft cheese, individually wrapped.) But lately, the Lord has taught me to rejoice in this season.

While having a spouse is a beautiful, God-honoring part of life, there are so many reasons to enjoy singleness.

Here’s my top ten reasons why being single is great:

I have the time and energy to focus on my career, my finances, my interests: working hard to pay off my debts, taking time to think and read, and spending time with many of the people I love.

I can’t even keep up with my own laundry. Why double it?

When I succeed at a new recipe, I get to eat all of it. And since cooking for one is too hard, I get to eat that awesome recipe all week long.

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When a cooking experiment fails, I’m the only one choking down a dry, burnt, or salty plateful of food, with no one to explain myself to.

I packed my whole life into a CR-V and road-tripped across the country. In the process, I only had to consider one job change, one set of belongings, one mess of address change and DMV logistics, and one person’s values and opinions. 

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I don’t have to share that bottle of wine I splurged on unless I feel like it. I usually don’t feel like it.

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I have five pillows on my bed and they’re mine, all mine. 

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No one is looking at my bank account to ask why I spent $27 on pizza for one. I like pizza, and I don’t like budgeting.

I don’t have to check with anyone before making oddball choices with my time: staying out until 2 am, going to bed at 7 pm, watching 1.5 hours of pregnancy announcement videos, or watching marathons of The Bachelorette.

Ultimately, singleness keeps me focused on the truth that there is something much greater to anticipate than earthly, temporal marriage:

“We are not just going to heaven, we’re heading for our wedding celebration and marriage to the Lamb of God, Jesus.” -Scotty Smith

What else would you add to this list, fellow Kraft cheese slices?

Birthday reflections.

On the eve of my 24th birthday, with visions of sugar plums dancing in my head, I’m in a reflective state of mind. As I think about everything that’s happened since my last birthday, one theme keeps coming back: God has been faithful this year, and He has kept so many of the promises He makes in Scripture.

Two books of the Bible I read through this year were Psalms and Isaiah; both books detail the ways that God is faithful to his people. And in my own form, I want to tell of the promises He’s kept as well.

Here are some of the most beautiful promises in Scripture that God kept to me this year:

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I will walk with you through the trials.

A few days before my last birthday I wrote these words: “I just can’t bring myself to feel anything positive … I don’t feel well in my heart.”

A year ago, I was weighed down by deep loneliness, aimlessness, and sadness. I cried in the bathroom at work and slept too much; I dreamed of crashing my car into the median on the freeway.

This season deepened my compassion for those who struggle with depression all their lives–not just through seasons. Not only that, but it also deepened the joy I felt when the springtime arrived like coming up for air and gasping for a breath.

And through every moment of that winter, this was the promise that the Lord kept to me:

Isaiah 43:2–3

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you.
 For I am the Lord your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.

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I am your most constant friend and companion.

In the midst of being thrilled about a promising new job and relocating to a new city, I gradually was forced to reconcile with an impending separation from so many close friends I had made through five years in one little city. After a cross-country road trip to the West, it was nothing short of heartbreaking to watch two of my dearest friends climb on a plane back to Lynchburg, leaving me behind.

Moving to a new city all alone will force you to realize who you are at the core. When everything is in flux–my job, my home, my friends–and I’m far from all that is familiar, what is left? I was constantly reminded that the answer truly is: Jesus.

Deuteronomy 31:8

The Lord Himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you or forsake you.

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I am enough for you.

Out of the blue, I had an epiphany yesterday, and it was this: I finally, finally am enjoying the season of singleness that I’m in. Not just tolerating, but enjoying. What a beautiful thing it is!

I have spent so much time in my teens and 20s on pining after some guy or another. And I do have plenty of moments when I wish for a companion. But what God has given me instead is big belly laughs with friends and deep emotional connections and so much time to invest in my career during my first few years of teaching. And I’m content with this reality. So I want to serve and give with all that I have with the abundant resource of time that I’ve been given in this season.

And that deep longing to be fully known and loved? Well, God has already seen it and filled it.

Philippians 4:19

And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.

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I have prepared a path for you.

This is the most mind-blowing promise that God has kept in ways I couldn’t have dreamed. Remember the difficult winter I had? Well, as winter thawed into spring, the Lord was setting into motion the answers to some of my deepest callings and longings.

He guided me to a school where I could fulfill my childhood dream of becoming a high school teacher. I don’t yet have the words to describe this, but it’s more than I dared to dream. He is so faithful to complete the work He started.

Isaiah 30:18

Your eyes shall see your Teacher. And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, “This is the way, walk in it,” when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left.

I’m so deeply grateful for the lessons of year 23. My faith in God is sustained by His continual faithfulness to me; I know He will sustain me in the upcoming year. And I know He’ll sustain you too.

On tricks to save money.

Hi friends!

So, I love to share hints and ideas with people, especially when I’ve been pleased with something and have found it to work. In the last few years, I’ll admit to the following Google searches:

“how to make money quick”

“rebate apps free”

“poor college student extra cash”

Yeah, I’ve gone through all the apps that claim to help you get extra money. Some of them are amazing, and others aren’t worth your time. So I wanted to share two of my favorite ideas for making extra money with your regular purchases. You’re already buying groceries and spending money. Why not earn a little extra on the side?

Drop. You link this app to your bank account & every time you spend money at a store you frequent (Trader Joe’s, Sam’s Club, Target, Whole Foods, Starbucks, etc.) they give you points per dollar. Once you have enough points, you earn gift cards to places like Starbucks, Amazon, Whole Foods, etc. The cool thing about this one is that you can set it up and forget about it; it’ll add points automatically, and they add up gradually.

Also, if you use my code, we both get a little extra upfront.

My invite code is: kfk5s

Ibotta. You’ve probably heard of this one, and it’s a little more work, but seriously, you could be earning actual cash to your PayPal account for groceries you’re already buying. What I do is scroll through the offers while I’m making my grocery list to see if they’re offering rebates on anything I was already planning to buy. The products are sometimes specific, but you might as well see what you can get cash for.

My referral code is: lrpavby

I know it can be overwhelming to know which apps are trustworthy and worth your time, so I hope I can simplify the process for you by giving you some good ones! I’d love to answer any questions you might have about the apps, too.

Book Review: Daring to Hope by Katie Davis Majors

Remember the book Kisses from Katie? It flew off Christian booksellers’ shelves a few years ago, when we discovered the story of this young world-changer who dropped everything in Tennessee to move to Uganda in pursuit of Jesus’ calling.

The book Daring to Hope: Finding God’s Goodness in the Broken and the Beautiful is a continuation of that story of redemption. I am so, so, so thankful to be part of the team that’s had early access to this book to share it with others. Katie’s book has a beautiful message that I think will touch so many people–especially those who have experienced loss and struggle.

This book covers a lot of ground: Katie shares many stories from her time in Uganda, and she shares what God has been doing through her and her ministry, Amazima.

But Daring to Hope is mainly about a few specific themes:

This book is about hospitality.

And I don’t mean fancy dinner parties. In my exploration of what the church is (and isn’t) in the last several years, I’ve read and experienced hospitality so beautifully, and I love to see how well Katie exemplifies this beautiful gift. She welcomes people into her home so, so well: those who need long-term care or support, and those who just need a warm, soft place to be heard.

What I love about this book, though, is that she’s honest: “Loving people is hard. It brings us to the very end of ourselves. And as much as we are trained to avoid it, the end of ourselves is such a very sweet place to be” (49). With this beautiful dependence on Jesus, she walks with people through awful, difficult times in their lives, finding healing and hope simply in the presence of community.

This book is about loss.

It’s so hard to imagine everything that Katie has seen in her time in Uganda–she details some of the hardships in this book, but I won’t spoil them here.

But through it all, she writes with a deep understanding of who God is through her loss: “He wasn’t promising me a world without trouble, without heartbreak along the way. He was promising me Himself” (23). She’s developed the wisdom to see that in so many situations, He was present in the depths of her pain, and that is enough.

I think this book is important, then, for those who have experienced loss. Katie is so honest about it. There’s no doubt it’s been hard. But she also has learned who God is through the losses, and it’s these beautiful lessons that I’ve stored away in my heart to recall when (not if) life brings pain.

This book is about hope.

I resonated so deeply with Katie when she explained that she had arrived in Uganda with a reckless optimism, with no concept of the pain and loss she’d soon endure.

She writes, “Reality would shatter my optimism, but I would realize that it was only a cheap substitute for true hope anyway” (5).

As an optimist and a lover of beginnings and fresh starts, I too can lose myself in reckless optimism. But this book serves as a reminder that God is still on the throne, even during our struggles. In fact, He’s making our stories even more beautiful through pain:

“God kept reminding me that I wasn’t the writer of this story, and that when I tried to write all the endings, wrapping them up in a neat little package, I was diminishing who He was and all He could do” (24).

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This book is a sweet taste of God’s goodness and faithfulness in one corner of the world. It will refresh you and perhaps cause you to shift your perspective. I’m thankful I’ve read it, and it contains truths I will return to again and again.

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On resting in the good news.

You know those videos where a marathon runner’s legs buckle moments before the finish line and they wobble to the ground, so other runners have to help carry them across the finish line before transporting the poor soul to the hospital?

That was me as a first-year high school teacher, stumbling from my third week of teaching into this 3-day weekend. Teaching is incredible and a fulfillment of my lifelong dreams, but it ain’t no joke, fam.

By the grace of God, a new friend was going out of town, and her beautiful waterfront home by the bay was empty for the weekend. She invited me to come rest. “Here’s the spare key. Make yourself at home.”

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My weekend view.

(This should probably strike me as odd, that a woman I’ve met just once in person would allow me to live in her house for three days. What generous and abundant hospitality. This is uncommon. Surely I don’t deserve this. But I know that when we love Jesus, He shows us how to love extraordinarily, and my friend is simply loving me with everything she has–including her home. So this humbles me and points me to Jesus, but it no longer surprises me.)

So here I am, on a sister in Christ’s back deck overlooking the water. I’ve consumed one million bajillion calories this weekend–all of them empty, many of them alcoholic, all of them delicious–and I’ve finished three books that have sat on my shelf half-finished for months. This has been the perfect setting for Skype dates and phone calls to maintain relationships that are now separated by thousands of miles. The quiet has opened enough space for Jesus to whisper gentle reminders to me on the breeze.

Rest is so healthy and allows us to recharge to do our work to the best of our abilities. Jesus modeled this rhythm of rest and commanded us to follow His example. (This is essential doctrine, people. That’s why there are so many books and articles on it.)

And as I rest, the reminder that the Holy Spirit keeps impressing on my heart is simple: you are already loved and cherished. You cannot earn God’s love or favor. You’ve already got it.

This is hard for me to wrap my mind around as an academically-minded lifelong student with an all-American work ethic. From grade school to grad school, I constantly performed for grades and constructive feedback. As a teacher, I’m consistently being observed to ensure I meet expectations. I’m always watching the state standards to make sure I’m aligned with them. I never stop trying to prove myself to my students and even to myself.

But not so in the kingdom of God. Like the lamb in the parable of the lost sheep, I’m helpless on my own; I can’t earn the rescuing of the good Shepherd. Like the lost coin, I can’t help myself be found and treasured. Like the prodigal son, I can never do enough to prove my worth or make my Father love me.

We’re already valuable and treasured because our Father has a reckless love for each of us. No performance review will change that–either for better or worse. No failure is enough to change His love for us or change the fact that we are children of God. Yes, we should work hard to use the gifts He’s given us well, but when we mess up, He doesn’t back off.

So I don’t have to hide in shame, for His love is not contingent on how good of a teacher I am or how loving of a sister or friend I am. There are no standards I have to meet, no tests I have to pass. Thank God!

And this is true for every single person: you are already welcome at the table. Despite your screw-ups and awkwardness and history of running away. Despite your background, and despite all you’ve ever done. Even despite official church statements that determine whether you do or don’t belong.

You don’t have to have your membership up-to-date to partake in the love of God. No one but Jesus can decide who’s welcome at the table, and He has already said that everyone belongs: Jews and Gentiles, men and women, sinners and saints. He welcomes us into His presence, knowing that His words will draw us in, transform us, reorient us.

We don’t instinctively think this way. In his new book Whisper, Mark Batterson talks about how we won’t hear God’s voice if we don’t set aside time to hear it, and it won’t happen by accident. It takes deliberate rest, and deliberately seeking to know the truth through God’s Word and through His whispers.

That’s why I’m thankful for the privilege and the discipline of resting this weekend. And even as I return to another week of hard work as a teacher, striving for excellence as I living a life that I’d only dreamed of just a few years ago, I’m thankful that nothing changes how wide and deep and vast God’s love is for me.

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Book Review: Convicted by Jameel McGee & Andrew Collins

Hello, dear friends. I’m reviving my blog for a while because I have a lot to say. Specifically, I’d like to share some books and projects that I’ve enjoyed in the last few months.

To set the stage, I have the immense privilege of helping launch several books from publishers and authors whose work I believe in. I hate selling a product, but I love sharing what I’m passionate about.

And the book I’d like to review here has gripped me.

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When I signed onto the specific launch team for Convicted, I wasn’t entirely sure what the book was about. It sat on my shelf for a couple weeks while I tended to other reading and projects. As soon as I picked it up, though, I could not pull myself away from it.

It’s not the writing of this book that draws in the reader. No–the writing is adequate, but nothing special.

Instead, this book has the mark of an authentic transformation in two broken men that can happen only by the power and grace of Jesus.

The true story takes place in Benton Harbor, Michigan. Just across the river is another town, St. Joseph. One of these towns is primarily African-American and riddled with distrust, brokenness, and hurt. The other is a thriving tourist trap. I’ll let you guess on which side of the tracks this book takes place.

As I read this book, I recognized this setting. On a recent ministry trip I led with Liberty University to Baltimore, my team spent one morning planting trees in a rough neighborhood on a street corner specifically known for drug activity. Just a few blocks away was Inner Harbor–the part of Baltimore you’ve heard of. It’s a magnet for visitors. It’s where you go to “see Baltimore.” But racial tensions bubble under the surface, ready to blow up just like we saw plastered across the news in 2015.

While we were there, the church we partnered with also sent us on a prayer walk. It was no more than a few blocks. As we walked in a straight line, it was like traveling through entire cities: we passed through pristine, upper-class housing, followed by a Hispanic section, and finally we entered a primarily African-American neighborhood so run-down and battered that I hesitated to allow the college students in my care to keep walking for fear of encountering trouble.

It’s tempting to to think of “bad” neighborhoods as far removed from our safe suburbs. But they’re right next to the facades that we frequent. And they’re filled with stories: true stories of hurt and devastation and hopelessness.

Out of this setting, the hurting town of Benton Harbor, Convicted tells the story of another crooked cop. Another innocent African-American man.

I’m tired of these stories. I know you are too.

But this story demonstrates the way that Jesus works in the most broken and depraved situations. Andrew truly was a bad cop. Awful, in fact. He broke the public’s trust in law enforcement and acted selfishly and recklessly. He lays it all out in this book, and the depth of his corruption made my skin crawl.

And Jameel was truly innocent. He has been the victim of so many circumstances embedded in his environment. He was so badly victimized by Andrew.

And this is the story of how they found forgiveness and hope in Jesus, then found forgiveness and hope in one another. This book gives them both a voice, and it shows us who Jesus is in the worst of circumstances.

Convicted will be published on September 19, 2017. It’s timely for our world today. We’re still wrestling with bad cops, innocent black men, racial tensions and divide, and sin in our world. We need the message of this book that anyone can find healing in Jesus and in honest relationship with one another.

A line from coauthor Mark Tabb’s author’s note summarizes the deep purpose that this book has for those who read it: “Convicted is only one story of life in Benton Harbor. Maybe its hopeful ending is just what this town–and all of us–need.”

If you are interested in this book, you can pre-order at www.ConvictedBook.com.

On speaking for justice.

In the midst of Trump’s executive order regarding refugees, and in the wake of the March for Life, I see many of my Christian friends speaking out against injustices this weekend to defend the helpless and the voiceless. I am proud to align myself with them.
I remember a specific situation when I ignored a need for action. When I was very young, my family went to the Wild Animal Park in San Diego. As we walked, I remember watching a woman in a wheelchair take a sharp corner too quickly and tip over her chair. I looked up at my dad, but he had been looking at something else. It quickly became apparent that I was the only one who’d seen her fall. I should have rushed to help, gone to her side and checked that she was okay, but I froze. I did nothing as she laid there. It wasn’t long before her daughter came to her side, but that moment has always haunted me. I still do not understand why I didn’t rush to help.
Flash forward fifteen years to Liberty’s campus. My then-boyfriend and I were fighting in a hallway. He was verbally abusing me and was threatening to physically hurt me when someone came out of a classroom to ask us to lower our voices. They had seen him slap my shoulder bag and prepare to hit me, punching his hand with his fist as a threat. They said nothing. They went back to their own business.
But I have friends who advocate for widows and orphans, unborn children, those without a home or a country of their own. They’ve seen something go wrong, and they’re saying something. Injustice is their business.
Never again do I want to be in a situation where I knew something was wrong and said nothing. Thank you, friends, for taking action when you see needs.