Posted in Reviews

Welcome to College

My best friend’s oldest daughter starts college this fall. My own daughter is just two years away from this new journey. She has taken her first stab at the ACT, and we’re getting ready to find out how to proceed with other tests and scholarship applications. College is definitely on my mind.

College can be overwhelming to a young person’s personal management, interpersonal relationships, and spiritual growth. Years of working with and speaking to college students have proven this truth to author and speaker Jonathan Morrow. The updated edition of Welcome to College is his effort to place a resource in the hands of college students to help them process through these overwhelming challenges in a way that keeps them grounded in their faith.

The advice and theological content found in Welcome to College are both very solid and sound. So many young adults drift away from their Christian upbringing during the college years, many of them never to return. This drift is often because they process through high school without hashing through these concepts, then get to college and find that they have no solid foundation of understanding to stand on. Welcome to College helps students process through these concepts, establishing a firm footing.

My question is this: would you have read this book as a college freshman? Or even during the summer before starting college? The chapters in Welcome to College are short, but with forty-three chapters, four appendices, and a total (including notes) of 410 pages, this is not exactly a quick, light read. The strong, weighty content makes this a book that should not be read quickly, either. It is too much to absorb in a quick, summer read, and it is unlikely that the information would truly be grasped were a student to try to read it in the midst of all of the new experiences of the freshmen year – if they even got it read at all.

In short, despite the solid content found in these pages, I would not give Welcome to College to my best friend’s high school senior as a graduation gift. Despite the fact that she is a studious, responsible, diligent young lady who would gladly embrace the advice and information in this book, she does not have the time to pour through it.

But that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t recommend the book. If Welcome to College were to be handed to an incoming freshman, I would encourage it to be done as a part of a mentoring group planning to work through it slowly. The chapters are short enough to read one a week and be prepared to talk through it in a group, even with a full school load. But an even more ideal situation would be to suggest that Welcome to College be backed up a couple of years. I know it is written to college students, but I see this filling a need for students pushing through their last couple of years of high school. Students like my own daughter who is finishing up her sophomore year. Thanks to the discussion questions in the back, this book would be a great year-long mentoring or small group study for high school students, helping them process through the content and allowing them to ask questions of people they know and trust before they hit the chaos of college.

Yes, Welcome to College holds a great deal of solid information and is one I would recommend. But, even better would be to not let our students get to college without having these concepts worked out before hand!

Posted in Marriage Monday

He Doesn’t Need Me

So, I meant to publish this two weeks ago. Then last week. Both weeks, I realized on Wed that I hadn’t published it! So here it finally is…

I have to chuckle sometimes at the comments I get from church members, and have gotten in every church we have ever served.

“You make sure to make him behave!”
“It’s a good thing he’s got you to keep him in line.”
“Keep him out of trouble, now.”

It’s all in good fun, and I always make sure to respond in fun as well. But, usually not quite in the expected way.

“Behave? Well, that’s no fun!”
“Oh, he keeps me in line!”
“I’d just get him in more trouble!”

There is a reality to our marriage that I am reminded of with each of these conversations: my husband does not need me.

It’s true! My husband is one of the most capable, reliable, sufficient people I know. He can handle himself everywhere he goes. If he doesn’t know how to do something, he knows how to get help. He does not actually need me.

Now, the reality is that Doug and I rely on each other. I am more comfortable in certain roles than he is, and vice versa. Also, the demands of our jobs, ministry, and life in general mean that certain tasks naturally fall into my hands or his. Were he to have to do the things that I usually do, he would struggle to keep it all balanced. But that is more because, between the two of us, we do more than can fit into the scope of a 24-hour day. So, we do heavily rely on one another. And that’s the way it should be. But true need is a different concept entirely.

The Real Need

We have all probably met someone who desperately needs to be needed. They often create situations of codependency because of this need. If we’re honest with ourselves, we will admit that we have at least a small bit of that tendency within us; we all desire to be needed by others. But, that is not how God created us. Yes, He designed us for community, but as individuals, He intended that we have only one need: Himself!

That’s right, our real need is Christ and Christ alone. He fills us. He supplies us. He is all-sufficient.

So, where do relationships fit in? God chooses to use us to meet the needs of one another within the community. But the provision still comes from His own hands. He grants us different gifts, talents, strengths, and weaknesses so we will choose to divide and conquer, work together, and be a beautiful example of love for this world. Not because we need one another, but because we rely on one another as we express our need for Him alone and let Him fulfill our needs in any way He chooses – through community or through some other form of intervention.

That is not less true in the marriage relationship. We need Christ. Period. As we rely on Him, He then uses each of us to meet the needs of the other. But He is our only real need.

It is actually quite freeing to know that Doug does not need me. That his real need is for the Lord Jesus Christ, and that I just get to be the Lord’s vessel. It is not always easy to step aside and let that truth reign in our marriage, because I do share that desire to be needed. But, when I do step aside, our marriage is so much more powerfully fulfilled.

May you, too, know the freedom of not being needed!

Posted in Family, Wednesday Work, What Works for Me

Table Talk

If you pick up any parenting guide, read any family focused tips, or seek advice on strengthening or restoring family cohesiveness, you will see “share meals regularly” as a common top recommendation. I’m going to admit something that I’m just now coming to realize: I rebel against that advice. Not because I don’t make a habit of sharing meals with my family. I do. Although there are always exceptions, our goal is to sit down as a family for at least one meal every day. Because that is our goal, we are quick to find alternatives when the goal is thwarted. It’s that important to us.

So, why do I balk at the advice to eat as a family daily or a certain number of times each week? Let me answer that question with a brief trip down memory lane.

An Aspirin a Day

Decades ago, my grandparents were told by their doctor to take a “baby” aspirin every day to ward off heart disease. Now, my grandparents were both very healthy right on up into their nineties. Although there were illnesses involved in their deaths, the honest truth is that they died of old age. Their bodies had degenerated too much to fight off normal diseases.

I remember multiple times when my grandmother told me that she was so healthy because of that daily aspirin. So-and-so was having heart or other health issues, and if they would just take an aspirin every day, that would solve their problems!

Truthfully, though, my grandma was just healthy. Or maybe it was just that she was too stubborn to get sick! Either way, the aspirin was just a tip. A suggestion for dealing with a potential underlying issue. It was not a cure-all, but advice based on contemporary medical wisdom.

And that, my friends, is exactly what the family meal suggestion is. It is one method of combating relational distance. Just one method.

Our Talk Time: Table Talk

My family loves sharing a meal together because that is the easiest time to just sit around and gab for a few minutes. Some days we talk, and some days we don’t. Sometimes we have serious conversations and other times a fly on the wall would run away in terror because of our insanity. Sometimes we just so happen to eat multiple meals together in one day, and other times we can barely coordinate sitting down together three times in a week! We might have interesting discussions every day one. week and none for the next two weeks.

The key is that meal time is the most opportune time for us to converse in a spontaneous manner, without pressure or topic orchestration. And, honestly, that’s probably true for the majority of families. Sharing meals as a family has a reputation for being one of the greatest single components of a healthy family, and consequently tends to be the greatest single recommendations for restoring or building family health: because it’s an opportunity to talk.

It’s not about the meal. It’s about the natural interaction and the relationship. It’s about the talking. It’s about the relaxed interaction and communication.

What’s Your Talk Time?

For your family, it might not be table talk. It might be car talk if you are all in the vehicle together at least one to three times a week. Perhaps you have weekly game night or enjoy regularly watching sports together, so it’s game talk. The key is not the meal. The key is finding a time when everyone in the family is together and relatively relaxed so the relational conversation – whether serious, funny, or outright weird – just naturally flows.

Yes, mealtime is what works for our family. And I love that time together! My prayer is that you find the “talk” time that works for you. You won’t regret it!

Posted in Wednesday Work, What Works for Me

Letting Go

I’m a perfectionist by nature. Unlike the portrayal of perfectionism that is often depicted in our media and entertainment, perfectionism does not always mean that everything is perfectly in order. For me – and for many perfectionists I know personally – it is more that there is a sense of constant tension because it’s not perfect. My desk is a mess. Why? Because right now I just can’t seem to keep everything in its place. And, even if I do, there’s just a lot of stuff that stays on my desk, so it doesn’t necessarily look tidy even when it is. That’s a conflict. So, it is almost better to have chaos than to have something shy of perfection.

I know. I’m weird. But, you probably are not just now figuring that out!

Over the years, I have learned to repeat a phrase in my head when perfection eludes me. So, pretty much continuously. What is that phrase? Let it go.

Yes, princess moms, you can now all start singing the song in your head. All. Day. Long. I’ll be joining you, I’m sure. You’re welcome.

Back on point.

One of the tendencies of perfectionism is emotional and mental self-abuse. I suppose every personality suffers from a form of that. It just manifests itself differently in each of us. For my perfectionist mind, the self-abuse comes in the form of beating myself up over every past mistake and imperfection. Just ask my husband. I will readily forgive my children when they spill something. (Unless it was an “accident” caused by blatant disobedience. Then we have to deal with it first.) But, my own spill? I mentally enumerate all of the ways I messed up leading up to the spill. All of the ways I could have prevented it.

It’s just a spill. But in my mind, it’s an utter failure.

So, once again, I have to repeat in my head over and over again, “Just let it go, Ann. It’s okay. It really is just spilled milk.”

It gets even better. The topic for this post came to mind for the most bizarre reason. I had a marriage post ready to go on Monday. Just this morning, I realized I never actually published it. It’s such a silly thing. Some people would have just published it today. But, in my perfectionist mind, that post belonged to Monday, my day for marriage posts. I missed the window. I didn’t get it published. Grrrr. I messed up. Beat. Beat. Beat.

Or take a deep breath, let it go, and publish it next Monday. (Because, it really does belong to Monday. I can hang on to at least a small portion of my craziness, can’t I?)

The great challenge here is learning how to separate mistakes and accidents from my sin, just as I do with my children. Mistakes happen. Accidents are plentiful for a socially and physically uncoordinated person like myself. But sin? That’s another story entirely. The problem comes when I beat myself up more over the mistakes and accidents – the things that just happen – than I do over my willful sin. I’m often much more quick to justify those actions.

So, what works? A thriving and active relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ.

You see, the Holy Spirit is the only one who can truly help me separate conviction from perfectionism. He knows best how I am made. He knows what damages my relationship with a holy God. And He knows that my heart craves the perfection I was created for.

When I’m listening to the voice of my Lord, I know best when to confess and when to just let it go.

Oh, and once it’s confessed? Yeah, I have to learn to let that go, too.

What do you need to let go of this week?

Posted in Reviews

The Elusive Miss Ellison

The popularity of television shows such as Downton Abbey reflects a literary popularity that has been steadily growing for some time now. Authors who loved Jane Eyre and the various heroes and heroines of Jane Austen as teens are now penning their own Christian versions of stories from the same period of history.

I did love Jane Eyre as a teenager, but only recently has my overall taste for historical fiction branched from my preferred American pioneer or World War II genres to include the collision of the genteel and popular British culture of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. So, I recognize that I still have much to learn. The various ranks and habits of the British nobility remain a bit unfamiliar to me. The stories, however, are very fascinating.

As with other favorite genres, I am trying to explore new authors as I have the opportunity. Carolyn Miller’s The Elusive Miss Ellison came up for review through Kregel, and the plot sounded intriguing. I was not disappointed!

Miss Lavinia Ellison is the not-so-eligible daughter of Reverend Ellison and crusader for the plights of the poor villagers in her father’s parish. When Nicholas Stamford, the new Earl of Hawkesbury, arrives to evaluate the situation of his holdings, he finds Lavinia Ellison formidable, opinionated, and disturbingly intriguing.

The Elusive Miss Ellison is very obviously a romance. Readers know quickly that the anticipated romantic tension will exist between Nicholas and Lavinia, and it is obvious that the pair will be forced to conquer challenges posed by the expectations of two very different social stations. It is not an uncommon theme for romantic fiction of this genre. So, what makes this particular novel stand out?

I enjoyed “watching” the relationships explored in The Elusive Miss Ellison. Friendships, both new and longstanding, formed a foundation for the story. But, my favorite relationships were those that quietly and steadily shared the love of Christ. It was fascinating to watch various characters discover the spiritual standing of other characters. I also enjoyed the fact that the Christians in Carolyn Miller’s novel were real people who had to work through their faults and struggles like anyone else – but they had both the encouragement and the correction of the Holy Spirit to make it happen. Discipling relationships were sprinkled throughout the novel. Discipleship through relationships is a passion of mine, and I love to see it explored in fiction as an example for real life.

I also appreciated the author’s approach to bringing the romance to fruition. I won’t explore this particular point too deeply, because to do so would give away too many spoilers. But, despite the familiar ebb and flow of a Christian romance novel, the author introduced creativity in the storyline that kept it from being overly predictable.

My familiarity with early nineteenth century British culture and society is still limited, so I admit to getting lost a few times when “popular” references were made or when members of the nobility discussed their society from an insider perspective. I missed the significance of much of the banter, simply because I had no context for it. It did not diminish my enjoyment of the story, but it did show me that I am not in the “in” group when it comes to readers (and writers) of this genre.

So, would I recommend The Elusive Miss Ellison? Definitely! It is a good read for teens and adults alike. I’m not sure I would encourage readers with little or not exposure to early 19th century British culture to start here, but it is definitely a good read.

This book was sent to me by Kregel Publications in exchange for my honest review.
Posted in Marriage Monday

Together

Some days the writing thoughts flow. Other times, I sit staring at a blank screen, clueless about where to begin.

One evening, I knew a marriage post was next on my list, but I was in blank screen mode. I had tried to work through several ideas during the week, but nothing would come together. My thoughts either sounded too grumpy or too forced, or they just wouldn’t gel at all.

On this particular evening, my husband sat behind me working on his own computer. I finally looked at him and said, “I have nothing. I love marriage – really, I do. And I love being married to you. But I have nothing to write about.”

For the next few minutes, we just chatted. Not about a marriage post, though. We chatted about a writing lesson on character development that was coming through my inbox. We talked about this, that, and the other. Then, it was time to close everything down and head to bed, and the writing opportunity had passed.

But the interaction reminded me of how important togetherness is for the overall flow of life.

True togetherness is not about times when we need help. It also is not about the situations in life that require joint effort. In fact, without true togetherness, we will probably fail to come together when we need help, and we will possibly struggle to process through the things that demand joint effort.

True togetherness is like our relationship with Christ (shocking, I know) – it must be nourished continually and through all areas of our relationship. And, when it is nourished in the times of simply being, it will come through in the times of need.

Any glance through my blog shows that it has still taken me a couple of weeks to get a marriage post written, more because I haven’t had a chance to come back to it than anything else. But, as I sit down to get this one written tonight, I am reminded about how beautiful it is to do marriage together. To interact in every opportunity. To just enjoy being together, whether we are working, playing, or just being.

I pray you have the opportunity to enjoy togetherness this week.

Posted in Friday Faith Nuggets

I Love You

Sometimes I struggle with saying, “I love You,” to my Savior.

That’s hard to even admit in writing. I have written the confession in my journal many times, and that fills me with enough shame. But, to share it publicly…

It’s not that I don’t love Him. Oh how I do! But, my heart aches because, all too frequently, my thoughts and actions do not show it. How can I tell Him I love Him when I blatantly behave differently day in and day out?

If you are a parent, you know what I mean from the other end of the spectrum. In one moment, we hear our children say, “I love you, Mommy!” Then in the next, they are doing something that blatantly negates the statement. A bad attitude. An arrogance of behavior. A flagrant act of disobedience.

And, if you are anything like me, sometimes you look at your child and want to say (or maybe go ahead and say!), “You say with your mouth that you love me, but your actions show otherwise.”

Because I, in my frail humanity, have difficulty receiving words of love from my children when they blatantly disobey me, I often attribute that same response to God. He knows my heart. He knows the selfishness that reigns. He knows the times when I avoid talking to Him in prayer because I would rather be busy with other things. He knows. Oh, how He knows, so much more even than I know the heart of my children! So, how can I tell Him I love Him when He can see directly into the self-centeredness of my heart?

Recently I was reading John 21 and came to the conversation between Jesus and Peter that we often refer to as Peter’s reinstatement. I have read this passage many, many, many times, but on this particular day, it struck me in a different way. Peter had denied Jesus. Flat out denied, with curses, that he even knew his Savior. Yet Jesus did not once say, “Peter, how can you say that you love me after the way you acted?”

Instead, He simply asks, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?”

And after the third time, Peter gives my favorite answer, “Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You. (John 21:17)”

Wow. Remorse filled Peter over his denial of his Savior. Yet, he could still say, “You know that I love You.” And Jesus knew that love would carry Peter through his coming life of church leadership, persecution, and martyrdom.

The truth of my heart is that, despite my stupid and selfish actions, I really do love my Savior. And He knows it. Oh what a treasure! Oh what a joy to know that I can say, “I love You, Lord!” even as I am on my face before Him in tears of repentance! And that very truth is what drives me again and again to repentance and growth. My Jesus knows I love Him. Now, may my actions increasingly reject my own selfishness and instead reflect the love He knows to be true!