I Am Found – #Write31Days

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Talk about being behind.  It’s been a whirl wind summer of discovery for me, deep thinking, faith changing… just a big summer.  I’ve been challenged a lot.  I’m seeing things a bit differently.  This study had a helping hand in opening my eyes to those around me.  It’s only a 6 week study, but one that I feel about 6 months overdue in sharing with you.  Ok, maybe not that long.

I was given the opportunity to get a sneak peek at I am Found, when Moody Publishers selected me to be a part of a launch team.  The study is now available for sale, and I can’t recommend it enough.

Is this you?

Do you long for connection, but surround yourself with walls and a closed heart?

Do you battle shame, but long to be known and deeply loved by God?  By others?

Are you hesitant to show others the real you?  Do you fear rejection?

Do you desire to just been SEEN?  Do you feel invisible to God?  Are you hiding by choice?

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I remember walking up to the counter at my Publix Deli.  It was SWAMPED.  The line was long, patience was wearing thing, the employees were doing their best.  When my number was called, I began placing my order with the manners in which my grandmother instilled in me.  Yes ma’am.  No ma’am.  Thank you ma’am.  The woman who was serving me was worn out, you could see it in her face.  It was tired, stressed, and the line after me was growing.  When she handed me the last of my packages, I took a glimpse at her name tag.  I said “Thank you, Linda.  Have a blessed day”.

Immediately her eyes lit up, a smile appeared on her face, she relaxed just a bit.  She responded with the normal “You’re welcome” and tacked on a “have a great day too”.  Her attitude had shifted.  I believe it was because someone recognized her.  Yes, she may have been running my face through her memory trying to place me.  Do we go to church together?  Does she shop here often?   Or, perhaps it was just as simple as being noticed in the sea of the hustle and bustle, the chaos and stress.

I believe we all have a deep desire to be seen by God, by others.  We want to know that we are valued, wanted, desired.  We hope that others will recognize our gifts and talent, our hard work and dedication.  It isn’t even about having accolades tossed our way, being promoted and given a raise.  Sometimes it is literally just wanting to know that someone sees us.  Or, when we suffer that someone cares about us.

There are instances where we have created that environment because we have been shackled by guilt and carry the burden of shame.  We build up walls around us so no one sees the real us, yet at the same time we scream out for people to see the false us.  It’s almost like slight of hand.  Look at the fake me, the perfect me, who as it all together… so that you don’t see the flawed me, the imperfect me, who is barely keeping it together.

There are times we hide because we have been hurt by others.  Afraid to let people in, yet desperate to not walk through life alone.  We constantly push and pull people, in and out of our lives.

Playing hide and seek with God, or others, is no longer enough.  We want to be found.  Seen. Known.

The I am Found study by Laura Dingman is a personal journey through the scriptures, biblical truths about how God sees us and Jesus loves us.  Each week begins with a bible based teaching, followed by daily reflection, opportunities to journal your thoughts; as you explore your life.  Your shame, your identity, God’s affection, relating to Him and others, and so much more.

This is a great study for personal use, small group, or ladies study.

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Who Me? God has to be kidding…

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The Lord has a very weird sense of humor, when it comes to the ways He chooses to work through my life.  I also find that when I am at church and our Pastor issues some sort of a challenge…

… inevitably I am about to be moved out of my comfort zone.

The interesting thing to me, is that the more I look at what He is doing the more I realize that it is not something He was suddenly doing in my life.  Instead, the Lord was preparing for me it long before I even knew what IT was going to be.

But, I’m jumping ahead of myself.  Let’s start here….

My Pastor began a series called “If I Wasn’t Afraid” (you can watch each of the messages on vimeo from the link above).

In the course of the series, we were challenged to “Be Brave, Don’t Cave”and:

  1. Accomplish a personal adventure.
  2. Have a God honoring and needed conversation.
  3. Take a step (or leap) toward a God honoring commitment.
  4. Make a God honoring contribution.

Those who know me would hardly consider me as someone who is afraid.  For the most part, I’m not.  As you get to know me though you’ll realize there are many things I can do… there are many situations I’m bold in… there really isn’t a conversation that I won’t have.  I’m not afraid to share my opinions, to try new things, and to even have difficult conversations.

I am, however, terrified when it comes to talking about my personal life.  I can share about how I struggle in my walk as a Christian.  I can share my parenting difficulties and whatnot.  Yet, there is a line.  When we get too close to talking about it… I get uncomfortable.  I’ll change the subject.  I’ll make a joke.  I’ll find an excuse to duck out of the room.

This would be the exact subject that God would call me to conquer in the challenge our Pastor issued.  You see, this will be a personal adventure for me.  I’m about to enter a world that I am terrified of… that one area that has been off limits.  It is going to require me to have a God honoring conversation with myself, my husband, and with women just like me.  It is going to take a commitment to see this through to the end, no matter how many times I want to run and hide.  And, it is going to be a contribution that will hopefully help other women.

By now, I am sure you are all waiting with bated breath for the big reveal….

Ya’ll the Lord has called ME of all people to talk about S… E… X…

Sweet cheese and crackers.

So this week, I’m going to be reading the Song of Songs (aka Song of Solomon).  I can’t lie… this is the only book of the Bible I have avoided.  However if I am going to stand before anyone and claim the authority of the Word of God… that all parts of it are God breathed for instruction and correction… it must include Song of Songs.

All of it… every word… is important.  Whether I ever wanted to admit it or not, God cares about our sex life.  It is no wonder we live in a world of sexual brokenness… when we are afraid to talk about it’s holiness.

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At the beginning of this post I shared that I realized the Lord had been preparing me for this long before my Pastor issued the challenge.  Did you know that the Lord does this quite often.  In the book of Nehemiah, there was a lot of preparation going on between the time the Lord burdened Nehemiah’s heart and when the Lord actually said “GO”…

For me, this process started two years ago when a book called “Pulling Back the Shades” came across my lap.  It was a simple book review, that would have profound impact on me.  A book that would cast off some scales and force me to take a hard strong look at my own past and beliefs about sexuality.  That review would lead to me becoming a part of a launch team to promote the book as the 50 Shades movie was about to release.  Thus, establishing a relationship with @AuthenticIntimacy that would lead me to volunteering for a women’s conference, launch teams for two more books (25 Questions You’re Afraid to Ask About Sex, Surprised by the Healer), another live event, and then a leaders training.  It would put me in touch with a network of women who have become amazing friends, and sisters in the battle to take back this ground.

I would find myself sharing with women things I never imaged I would share with another human being.  Then, the Lord pushing me out of my comfort zone, to the point that I would be leading a study on sex in marriage… IN MY CHURCH.  Having candid conversations with women in my church about how important this is (and how broken I am) and quite possibly the most awkward email I have ever sent to a Pastor… IN MY LIFE.  Why?   Because, my Pastor recognizes how important this subject is.  For our church.  For our community.

I am afraid, terrified of this subject.  I know that in short order this last hidden part of myself is about to become absolutely transparent to the women who attend the study.  The Lord has a lot to say about being afraid too.

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Isaiah 41:10

It is ok that I am afraid, that I am scared, that I am even terrified.  This means that I am going to be leaning and relying on the Lord more than ever.  Please pray for me, and the women who are going to be walking this journey with me.  Lord, bring healing. Redeem the broken.  Heal marriages.  Amen.

On the Bookshelf, 2016

2015 is coming to a close, and if you’ve learned anything about me thus far… I like to read.  So, in case you are still contemplating your 2016 reading list… here is a sneak peak at mine.  There is a combination of books, including ones I think deserve a re-read.

I’m sure I will be adding some things to the stack as 2016 progresses, but it is a start.  HA!

For what it is worth, none of these are advertisements or sponsored suggestions.  They are not affiliate links, so I am not making any money off the recommendations. books2016

Since I am completing my Bachelors in Divinity, and I know that I will be continuing in ministry of some sort, I really wanted to take a look into the functioning of the church as a whole.

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I also got my hands on a book I’ve been wanting to read on Women’s Ministry and material that may prove to be a good resource for beginning a discipling program.

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I’m also going to be revisiting two books I’ve already read.  Mere Christianity is a text I read earlier in my walk, and I’d like to read it from new more mature eyes.  Authentic Intimacy is coming to my town in January and I want to stay acquainted with the materials as I promote it with churches, leaders, and women I encounter.25qbooks merextian

I’ve definitely been focused on my personal relationship to God, especially now in a light of transition.  I know that God has something in mind, and sometimes I get a bit afraid.  Afraid of what He is going to ask of me, afraid I am not worthy of the calling, afraid I will fail, etc.  I’m looking forward to these 3 books (and yes, 1 doesn’t come out until Feb 2016… don’t covet they neighbor’s books. )  Technically I read one of the books already, but I actually want to take my time and go through it again.

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After reading Don Whitney’s Praying the Bible, I want to explore my prayer life more.  I also have a heart for revival, and realized that in all of the past stories I have heard about revivals… they all started with a prayer group starting somewhere.  Prayer is a powerful tool in the belt of a Christian.  I long to understand how to use it to the fullest capacity.

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I am daily studying the scriptures directly, and I firmly stand on that being the primary way to study scripture.  However, I have always found blessing in other resources.  Two that I have heard great things about have made it to my list this year.  I’m not sure if I will attempt these on my own, or put together a study group (as of right now I already lead a Women of the Word study), I guess I need to pray about that.

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The other thing that is big on my agenda for 2016 is getting a better grip on my health, which I have known means reigning in my diet.  Having an autoimmune based thyroid condition means that I am constantly fighting against my own body.  It’s been a hit or miss on what works best for me, and I’ve been blessed to find an amazing doctor this year who helped me on the medication and supplement end.  Recently I was introduced to a plan by a friend, and I’ve heard good things from others with my condition.  So, I’m going to give it a try.  I bought the book & a cookbook.

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And to cap it off, I got another cookbook.  One thing most people don’t know about me is that I read cookbooks just like I would a novel.  I love them.  In fact I had so many cookbooks at one point, I had to pair down.  One of my favorite cookbooks was the Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day cookbook, which is all about bread.  Great… but when the doctor tells you that you need to be gluten free… bread is a no-no.  Boooo.  Well, it turns out the authors came out with a NEW version that includes GLUTEN FREE recipes.  WOOOOOOO.   Merry Christmas to me.  If the gluten free recipes are anything like the original recipes, you’ll find me comatose in the corner … bread crumbs strewn about.

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So… what books are on your 2016 reading list?  Use the comment section to recommend something you read this year, that I MUST read.  Link to your blog with your 2015 or 2016 reading list.  Or, share which of the books I recommended jumped out at you as one you’d like to read.  Join the conversation, and let’s fill the bookshelves!  And you never know… there may be a drawing or two in the works!

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PULLING BACK THE SHADES

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This month I got the opportunity to review a new book by Dannah Gresh & Dr. Juli Slattery called “Pulling Back the Shades“.  This book is written as a response to the popular 50 Shades of Grey series, and upcoming movie.  This will be different than my usual book review, a little more personal, and not in the format I usually do book reviews in.

Before I begin I would like the make 2 things very clear.

1) I have not read the 50 Shades series, but in my past I have read books of the same genre.

2) I am aware that some of my very own Christian & non-Christian friends have read the 50 Shades series, as well as other series from that genre.

Knowing all of this, I ask you to just keep reading.

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I can’t tell you how old I was exactly when I was first exposed to any type of pornography.  I can pin point it to my elementary years, I’d have to say it was third grade or even younger.  My father kept his collection of Playboy magazines in his living room.  When I say “collection”, I mean it.  It was a dedication shelf unit, of multiple shelves with stacks and stacks of magazines.  My father gave clear instructions to us that we were not to look at them, ever.  Which pretty much means, as some point we were curious enough to do so.  My father gave the classic “for the articles” excuse, and as photography was a hobby of his… I wouldn’t exactly say it surprised me that he would look at the pictures.  As a fan of art myself, from an early age, I had seen plenty of nudes in museums.  While I looked at some of the pages, I was not really impacted by what I saw.    Or, at least I didn’t think I was.

Fast forward a few years, and my mother would bring me with her to a friends house.  It was in their home, when I asked to use the restroom, that I would come across my first “Hustler” magazine.  Unlike my father’s Playboy magazines, these images were a lot more graphic.  I knew I shouldn’t be looking, yet I thumbed through the pages.

By high school I was reading books that were certainly not on the high school reading list, but recommended by some friends.  They would definitely fall into the realm of erotica, even back then.  Let’s be honest, erotica has been around for quite some time.  Just more hush hush, in the background conversation.

As time progressed, and movie and TV standards have loosened, there is hardly anyone I know that hasn’t seen a movie with some sort of graphic sex scene.  Long since have the days of suggested sex scenes passed, and very little is left to the imagination.  This isn’t just confined to mutual consensual sex scenes in movies, but also graphic and violent rape scenes.   And, now, with the release of these books and the upcoming movie… a darker side of sex is being brought to the forefront.  A side that combines violence and sex into a singular encounter, normalizing it, taking the taboo off of it and making it mainstream.

You can’t deny this, as of date statistics state that over 100 million women alone have read one or more of the 50 shades books.  And, there is very little difference between the % of Christians vs. non Christians who are reading it.

Over time, as I became a Christian, I began to find conviction about reading these books, watching these TV shows and movies.  It was easy to convince myself that you can flip past the pages or fast forward through these scenes and enjoy the rest of the material.  There is some naivety to that thought process though, as we have all learned at some point, or another, where that attempt failed.  Not to mention, leaving these tv shows sitting in your DVR is no different than leaving a romance novel (which is a tame erotica) on the coffee table,  or a magazine carelessly on your bathroom counter.

If you do not believe your kids will key into it, you are gravely mistaken.  There has never been a copy of 50 shades in my house, I’ve never talked about the book in the presence of my family.  Yet, my 15 year old daughter knew enough about it that when a promo played at the movie theater about the 50 Shades movie… she knew what it was and questioned how they were even allowed to show it in theaters.

A mom was collecting books for a book drive, and before she sorted through the box herself, one of her daughters sifted through it looking for anything interesting.  The mom had no idea that her daughter, who was probably 12 or younger at the time, had grabbed a few romance novels and shuttled them off to her room.

I also think back to a friend from high school that would tell me about all the “things” her mom kept locked up in her room, in a special chest.  She had been told to stay out of it, but when her mom was a work she found the key.  She wanted to know what her mom was hiding.

Kids are curious.  They will look at things we never expect.  They will disregard rules to satiate that curiosity over what we are hiding from them.  Group all of this with the internet, which can answer (with pictures) just about any question a kid has about a taboo topic from school…. well, there you go.

I began to purge my home of anything related to these materials, in essence I asked myself … “How would I feel if my kids walked in while I was watching this?”… “Would I want my teenager to pick up this book and read it?”…. and “What would God think about me watching this?”.   Truth is, I already know what God thinks about it.  His word is pretty straight forward.

I also began to realize the double standard I was setting.  I would never allow my husband to watch porn, go to a strip club, or subscribe to a “mens magazine”.  Yet, somewhere in our minds we can convince ourselves that they are just words on a page.  No pictures.  No harm.  The encounters are part of a bigger story.  I challenge anyone to read any of these books, skipping the sex scenes, and tell me that they are well written books and story lines that hold on their own without the sex scenes.  Fact is, the sex scenes are exactly what makes these books different.  Calling out to a need not being met in the lives of women, everywhere.  Christian.  Atheist.  Pluralist.  Married.  Mother.  Single.   Grandmothers.  Mothers. Daughters.

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When I grabbed the book, PULLING BACK THE SHADES, I expected this would be a book that would tell us all about how awful we are to read such material.  I figured a good finger wagging was in order, anyone reading it would walk away with shame and guilt.

I WAS WRONG.

Instead you find quite the opposite, you find frank discussion about Christianity, sex within the confines of marriage, a gentle approach toward the single woman, and some real honest truth.

The co-authors take turns speaking from their own perspectives … one who read, one who didn’t… one who writes and speaks on modesty and purity, one who helps counsel couples who have struggles in their intimacy.

This is not a book bashing 50 Shades, but dealing with the entire industry of erotica… which is growing.   It doesn’t shame you for being a Christian woman with sexual needs and desires, but instead points you toward HEALTHY sex life within the confines of marriage.  It explores the damage that can come from erotica to your marriage relationship, to your expectations of your future spouse, and your relationship with God.

While it would be great to avoid it, the book accepts that some of us are past that point.  We have been exposed at early ages, or later ages.  They don’t call erotica “mommy porn” for no reason.  So what do you do?  How do you get those mental images out of your head?  How do you stop seeing your husband as someone who doesn’t measure up to the hero or main character from your stories?  Why isn’t a book like 50 Shades safe?  (Guess what… even within the bondage community, the 50 Shades series is not supported and considered inaccurate, and dangerous)

Certainly Pulling Back the Shades is NOT suggesting you should read 50 Shades or erotica, or permissing it as ok.  It doesn’t support the idea that porn is ok, when a husband and wife watch it together.  Instead it gives us permission as women that our fantasies are OK, we don’t need the book or movie… we have our husband in the flesh!

MOST IMPORTANTLY, the book addresses something that is plaguing the Christian Woman today.  The book addresses how over the generations Christian women have been so pressed about sexual purity, that they will find guilt in sex IN THEIR MARRIAGE.   The place it has been reserved for, the very place we are supposed to have sexual freedom… we feel GUILTY because specifics about healthy marital sex have been avoided entirely in the church -OR- so much emphasis on shame that it becomes hard to escape it.

There is a reason women are flocking to erotica.  There is a reason women are flocking to romance novels and movies/tv shows.  They wouldn’t be a success, the industry wouldn’t be growing if it wasn’t meeting a need.

What need is it fulfilling?

Why does it meet it?  Emotionally, physically & psychologically?

What is the truth, we need to hear?  What are the risks?

How can we, as women, gain control of our God given sexuality in our marriages?

What if it’s too late?  What if you are addicted?  How do you overcome this struggle?

PICK UP THIS BOOK.  IT’S A QUICK, EASY READ.  READ IT.  SHARE IT.  RECOMMEND IT. 

50 Shades gained so much popularity that a hotel in Europe replaced all of it’s Bible’s with copies of 50 Shades.  It can’t be denied that society as a whole is normalizing this material, and that Christian women are not apart of their readers.  With online shopping, no one has to worry about their Pastor’s wife seeing them shopping in the Adult Literature section of the local book store.

Personal stories shared in this book clue us into how something as simple as reading a romance novel can impact our lives, relationships and marriages in the long term.

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I wish I could take back the images that have been ingrained into my memory.   I wish I could erase those magazine pages, the things I saw.  Fact is, they did impact me long term.  The way I look and feel about myself, at minimum.  Lord, I pray that you unbind these images from my mind.  Take them from me, let them never be used to distract me again.   There is always hope.  For my hope is found in the Lord.  He has saved me.  He has washed me, white as snow.  Protect my marriage.  Protect my children’s eyes and ears, hearts and minds.  Amen.

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Pulling Back the Shades

Author:  Dannah Gresh, Dr. Juli Slattery

Moody Publishers

ISBN: 13-978-0-8024-1088-7

BOOK Review: Made for More by Hannah Anderson

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The buzz on the street regarding the book “Made for More” by Hannah Anderson was strong, so strong that it actually caused me to shift my reading list.  I had planned to read something else this week, but I couldn’t resist. I had to read this book that I was hearing was one of the most important books written for women.  Who wouldn’t want to read that.

In Regards to the Author:  Hannah Anderson

Anderson is a female writer I can get behind.  Her style is very easy to read, but also very direct and to the point.  She doesn’t use a lot of filler or unnecessary illustration to get her point across.  This book was not a thick book, but I found myself taking extra time to read it (and even re-read some passages) because of the content.  Her vision in her writing is clear, her execution of that vision is on point.  Her language and content structure makes this book a great read for anyone, women and men alike.  Men will appreciate her straightforwardness, as much as I do.

In Regards to the Book:  Made for More

The overall theme of this book points our attention that we are made in God’s image, and for his purposes… which is MORE THAN WE COULD EVER IMAGINE ON OUR OWN.  In “Made for More” we are reminded that our identity should be rooted in Christ before anything else.   I am a Christian, who is also a woman… not a woman, who is also a Christian.  I am an image bearer of God, and thus I need to really take a look at myself in the mirror and evaluate how good of a job I am doing.  It is easy to allow our identity to get caught up in our position, who we are married to, our children, our hobbies, our volunteer service, ministry, ethnicity.   When we do that we are taking the attention off of God and putting it onto the thing we do & who we are instead.

As we learn more about our status as image bearers we can begin to give the same gifts to others that God has given us…. grace, mercy, forgiveness, compassion, love……

I can’t recommend this book enough, to all women… but men as well.  While it is written toward women, there is a lot men can glean from it.  How you will not only view your identity will be changed for the better, allowing you to walk forward with confidence in God and his plans for you.  It changes you at a foundational level, and everything built upon that will be all the stronger.

Highlights from the Text:

“In order to know yourself and exist as you were meant to exist, you must live in dependent communion with Him; you must be in loving relationship with others; and you must exercise creative care over creation.  And when any of these elements is off-kilter, you will experience a loss of identity and feel disoriented simply because you are not existing as you were created to exist.”  (Made for More, Hannah Anderson)

“When we turn from God, when we refuse to base our identity in Him, we are compelled to find it somewhere else because we must reflect something.  And when we do, we sin.”  (Made for More, Hannah Anderson)

He is calling you to faith.  Faith to believe that He made you to be so much more than your momentary desires.  Faith to believe that He made you to be more than your brokenness, more than your sin.  Faith to believe that authenticity means  faithfulness to the deepest part of His nature.   Faith to believe that you were made for glory. ”  (Made for More, Hannah Anderson)

There is no forgiveness; there is no redemption.  No public apology is sufficient.  No attempt to pay back is enough.  No acknowledgement of guilt or repentance will ever be adequate.  And we wonder why the people closest to us – in our homes, churches and schools – have a hard time acknowledging their own failures.  Could it be that we’ve faithfully demonstrated to them that there will be no grace when they do?”   (Made for More, Hannah Anderson)   (honestly, I could have quoted this whole chapter -Gena)

“By judging others we blind ourselves to our own evil and to the grace which others are just as entitled to as we are.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer (Made for More, Hannah Anderson)

 

Purchase Information

Made for More

Hannah Anderson

Moody Publishers

ISBN # 13:978-0-8024-1032-0