Embrace Fiercehearted Living

The Fiercehearted come in all shapes and sizes on this day, and their beautiful faces circle the table from all ages and stages of life. A gray-haired woman sips orange soda facing a 96 year-old faith warrior who prays fiery gospel truth over our meal. Our hostess chows down at one end of the table, mounding up joy like the whipped cream on her brownie pudding cake as if the cancer that has dogged her steps for ten years were only a minor inconvenience. A missionary on home assignment contemplates aloud the challenges of living on both sides of an ocean, but it’s clear that she is among the company who have borne seed with tears but now rejoice over a harvest.

In her manifesto scribbled in the dim light of an airplane seat, Holley Gerth has drawn the boundaries wide and grace-filled for who gets to wear the the name “Fiercehearted,” and her words have found their way into a book she never intended to write.

manifesto

When Holley disembarked from that plane, she walked away from unhealthy peace-keeping behaviors, signed up for counseling, and committed herself to the “brave, hard thing” of acknowledging and dealing with conflict in healthier, peace-making ways. For her, that was Step 1 of learning to take grace — not just for salvation, but also for making a way through a life, lived fully.

Fiercehearted is a series of essays devoted to one woman’s journey of learning to love her successes and her failures by grace alone. Digging into its pages like a prospector, I collected bright nuggets for the reader who has become tired of feeling controlled by fear, of living alone with her imperfections, and of being shackled to continual striving. Hear and believe these gentle reminders that God is tender toward your brokenness and stands ready to cover you all over with His righteousness:

If rules and systems for prayer don’t help you, let them go!

“I love my husband very much, but if someone gave me all kinds of rules for how I had to talk to him, it would stress me out and shut me up. I would become focused on my performance instead of our connection.” (72)

Stop imagining that you can somehow control how other people will respond.

“There’s no escape hatch from being an opinionated human surrounded by opinionated humans.” (90)

The church is an appropriate place for freedom and for fun.

“[W]e can sometimes intellectualize faith to the point where learning takes the place of living. . . We are not just minds. . . . We want to feel fully alive.”

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Holley invites readers to embrace freedom in Christ without fear; to sing from the depths of our hearts and our lungs; to laugh together and to forget about how “important” we are;  to enter into joyful celebration. Or even to enter into a crazy photo booth at a church celebration!

The true gift of fiercehearted living is the freedom to admit to imperfection, to accept it in those we love, and to live genuine, messy, and imperfect life in community.

“[S]ometimes it’s inconvenient and annoying and downright exasperating to be human. But it’s what we’ve got to work with. So perhaps one favor we can do for each other is to not believe anyone has it all together . . .In other words, we all need more kindness than it seems.” (124)

Holley’s words have tumbled onto the page at just the right time for me. Coming down the home stretch on raising a family of boys, I’m thankful for a new baby granddaughter who will need to see what strong looks like. There will come a day (sooner than I can imagine!) when she’ll need to swap stories about brave faith and audacious ministry — and she’ll realize that Bam’s house is never as clean as she’d like it to be.  Turning the last page, I’m praying for another generation of fiercehearted women who realize that God has already equipped them with everything they need for a life of living fully and loving bravely.

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This book was provided by Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group, in exchange for my review.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

 

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Women in Ministry: What God Wants You to Know

We were greeted with warm handshakes and pleasantries, an outline of the morning service, and then a startling announcement:  “We assumed that your wife would want to take the children.”  In the early days of our marriage when my husband was the area director of a children’s ministry, I used to travel with him to his weekend engagements.  However, in those days, I had a full-time job, no children yet, and no — I did not carry a Bible lesson around in my back pocket. (Given the same situation today?  I’d probably go for it!  Why not?)

Ministry wives are often subject to assumptions and misconceptions, and it is with this audience in mind that Kay Warren has written Sacred Privilege.  However, her words are relevant to all women in ministry, with or without husbands.  She writes from the perspective of a life-long “church girl,” the daughter of a pastor, wife to Rick Warren of Saddleback Church and Purpose Driven Life fame, and also as the mother to a pastor’s wife.  The book is a distillation of wisdom gained from an entire life lived in the fish bowl of ministry — not from the viewpoint of “perfect wife,” but as messenger and strong survivor, as one who has taken strength from God for a very specific calling and now wants to pass that encouragement on to others who share that call.

If you are a woman in ministry, here’s what God wants you to know:

1.  “You need to embrace your own story — all of it — for the glory of God and the good of His kingdom.” (31)

Kay’s story includes a brush with a porn addiction and a rocky start to her marriage.  It includes a struggle with depression and the mental illness and ultimate suicide of her son. She assesses this terrain and concludes that the life she has lived is the exact price required for becoming who she is today.

2.  “There is no greater heritage than for children to see that ministry is not just for dads but also for moms and brothers and sisters.”  (50)

Sharing a ministry focus as a couple and also as a family protects everyone from resentment and eases the claustrophobia of the glass house that can plague ministry families.  Kay defines “thriving” over the long haul  as the ability to share a God-given dream and points to Ephesians 2:10 to affirm that God is the architect of that dream.

3.  “Success in ministry is not about numerical results or recognition but about thriving, flourishing, and growing strong in one’s calling and in one’s character.” (58)

This does not mean that women in ministry will meet everyone’s expectations.  On the flip side, it also does not mean that we will always be free to do the thing we love the most.  When it comes to defining success in ministry, the most important voice in the room is God’s.

4.  “You have a story that is worth telling.”  (125)

Sharing God’s redemption process in your life is risky because your weaknesses come out of hiding.  However, in the process, others are drawn into the Light, and true friendships can be formed that will endure for the long haul.  Life in community — knowing others and being known — is so much safer and more comfortable than life on a pedestal.

5.  “No one will take care of you but you.” (139)

That sounds cynical, doesn’t it?  And it’s not to say that God, your husband, and/or your loving church family are all out to exploit you and suck you dry, but there are some aspects of self-care that are completely in your court:  eating, sleeping, and moving every day are your responsibility.  My favorite of Kay’s aphorisms applies here:

“Control the controllable and leave the uncontrollable to God.”

Nourishing the inner life and stepping away from ministry for Sabbath rest may require some adjusting.  Cultivating this flexibility is a discipline that is well worth it in the end.

6.  “Accept the loss of privacy with God’s grace.”  (180)

Gail MacDonald and Edith Schaeffer have blazed a gracious trail for ministry wives (and all women) with their writing, and Edith is eloquently accurate on this subject of boundaries:

“A family is a door that has hinges and a lock.  The hinges should be well-oiled to swing the door open during certain times, but the lock should be firm enough to let people know that the family needs to be alone part of the time, just to be a family.”  (183)

7.  “Live with transparency and work hard to do what is right in the sight of God and others.”  (194)

Because ministry is a “sacred privilege,” God-honoring integrity is key, particularly in the crucial areas of sex, money, and power.  Kay and her husband maintain a “warnings” file with details about well-known pastors who have left the ministry because of moral failure — just to remind them of their own vulnerability.

8.  Maintain an eternal perspective.

Practicing radical forgiveness will make the battle scars earned in church conflict more bearable — and will even speed healing!  Franςois Fénelon offers wise counsel:

“Don’t be so upset when things are said about you.  Let the world talk; just seek to do the will of God.  You will never be able to entirely satisfy people and it isn’t worth the painful effort.”  (215)

The shared dreams and plans, the sacrifices and the adjustments required of women in ministry can be viewed alongside Paul’s metaphor of the Christian life as a race.  We run toward a finish line that is difficult to see, and the noise of the crowd — whether cheering or jeering — can be a distraction.  Making it “our aim to please” God is the mindset that will foster self-acceptance, a thriving family, and the ability to live out God’s calling on our lives with integrity and joy.

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This book was provided by Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group, in exchange for my review.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

For more information about Kay’s writing and ministry check out her website here.

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The Way to Hope

A long-ago friend I’ll call “Beth” suffered from depression, growing more and more discouraged as she slogged through her days under the weight of it.  I asked her one day, “Why don’t you try reading a book about depression?”

“I’ve tried,” she replied, “but they only make me feel worse!”  If only she could have read Hope Prevails by Dr. Michelle Bengtson, I believe she would have been uplifted, encouraged, and enlightened in her understanding of what was going on in her body, her mind, and her spirit when depression washed over her days.  Dr. Bengtson has experienced depression herself, so she writes from inside the problem, and, as a clinical neuropsychologist, she experienced the shock of realizing that the treatment suggestions she had offered to her patients were not working for her.  Medication, therapy, diet, exercise, prayer are all tried and true remedies for depression, but it was only when she began exploring the spiritual component of depression that she began to find freedom.

Hope Prevails offers the comfort of companionship, the clear light of truth, and the gift of hope with solid facts about depression:

  • “In any given year, approximately 18.8 million Americans adults suffer from depression.  If we broaden the scope, in most countries 8-12% of the population suffers from major depression at some point.”
  • Depression is chemical; it is genetic; it can have physiological roots; and it is influenced by environmental factors such as stress.
  • The underlying roots of depression lie in the spirit of the depressed person who lacks peace and joy and has bought into lies about herself that detract from her ability to live life to the fullest.

The hope Dr. Bengtson offers is not a personal recipe that she takes credit for, but springs instead from a Scriptural promises that point the way to a supernatural hope.  When she says that those who mourn will find comfort, that those who sow in tears shall reap in joy, and that there is an inexpressible joy available on this planet, she is not offering Scripture as a “snap out of it” lucky charm, but as a truth to replace the lies that lead to depression and as ammunition to fight the battle.

Dr. Bengtson’s go-to verse is Jeremiah 29:11, for it speaks of a hopeful future that is invisible to the eyes of the depressed believer.  A steady diet of strong truth works to bring feelings into line with a quest for biblical joy.  Michelle recommends a gratitude journal as solid accountability in practicing “the settled assurance that God is in control of all the details . . . the quiet confidence that ultimately everything is going to be all right, and the determined choice to praise God in all things.”  This “settled conviction about God” is Kay Warren’s definition of joy which forms the bedrock on the road to healing and restoration.

Peace flees in the presence of shame, and owning one’s brokenness shines light into the dark places where shame rules.  Dependency on God and genuine forgiveness as a path away from bitterness and resentment are strong medicine.  Hope Prevails urges readers to take responsibility for their responses to circumstances —  a victim mentality leads only to self-pity and gets in the way of accepting God’s glorious validation of our identity as believers:  Accepted!  If God says “beloved,” who am I to disagree?

The truth of our value to God rests on the exorbitant price He paid to own us, and this counteracts all the whispered lies that hiss “unlovable” and “not good enough” into the ears of our heart.  Dr. Bengtson’s own embrace of this truth is part of her story, and she also shares her experiences of  illness, dysfunction, and grief that allow her to reassure her readers that pain is not wasted, nor is it evidence to disprove a loving God.  On the contrary:

“God never protects us from that which He will use to perfect us.”

Dr. Bengtson urges her readers to take advantage of any and all possible treatments for depression from medication to better sleep habits, but stresses that a God-reframed mindset and care for one’s spiritual self is the foundation upon which all other modalities will find greatest success.  Her message and the message of God in His Word are one:

Hope does not disappoint.
Hope prevails like love poured out in the heart;
Like light kindled in a dark place;
Like a Listening Ear who “searches the heart” and intercedes in wisdom;
Like a sign post in the road pointing away from danger.
Even in the midst of depression — by grace — reach out for and rejoice in hope.

This book was provided by Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group, in exchange for my review.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews from Living Our Days delivered to your inbox.  Just enter your e-mail address in the box at the top of this page.

I link-up with a number of blogging  communities on a regular basis.  They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week.  I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.

The Beginning of Wisdom

Proverbs has always been a challenging read for me.

My brain wants to make outlines, and it searches in vain for a tidy way to summarize the truth of a chapter.  Proverbs 1 and 2 cooperate nicely:  wisdom.  However, the following chapters  veer off into multiple topics, and my takeaway from reading this valuable wisdom literature is that the message of Proverbs is pure and simple — except that even at its purest, it’s seldom that simple.

In Proverbs Prayers, John Mason has examined the wisdom of the Proverbs with an eye towards prayer, something we’re used to doing with the Psalms.  In fact, his thinking has opened my eyes to the promises as well as the principles that run through every chapter.  The book keeps readers grounded in the text by including all thirty-one proverbs, with each one followed by a written prayer.  Since there is hardly an area of life that is NOT addressed by the Proverbs, praying through them opens the heart to an entire cosmos of issues:

Petition – “Lord, help me to love those around me by sharing your wisdom and love today.”

Declaration of intent – “I’ll not foolishly reject understanding . . .”

Statements of belief, dear to the heart of God – “I believe that you are a fortress, a strong tower . . .”

Verbal application of principles – “If a conflict arises, help me to be patient with others by taking time to hear both sides of any problem.”

Gratitude – “I thank you . . . that  a real friend like you always sticks closer than a brother.”

Affirmation of critical doctrines – “It is your purpose that always prevails.”

Dealing with sin – “Lord, I know that I can never make my own heart clean and pure by myself.  Only you can do that, so I ask . . .”

I’m looking forward to working my way through Proverbs Prayers again, only this time, more slowly.  And rather than analyzing the message of the Proverbs, this time my focus will be to ask for Divine Help in living out their message.


 

This book was provided by Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group, in exchange for my review.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews from Living Our Days delivered to your inbox.  Just enter your e-mail address in the box at the top of this page.

I link-up with these communities on a regular basis:    Soli Deo Gloria Connections, Inspire Me Mondays, Good Morning Mondays, Soul Survival, Testimony Tuesday, Titus 2 Tuesday, Tell His Story, Coffee for Your Heart, Live Free Thursdays, Faith-Filled Fridays, Grace and Truth, Fellowship Friday, Still Saturday, The Weekend Brew, Sunday Stillness, Faith and Fellowship, Blessing Counters, Women with Intention, Sharing His Beauty, Monday Musings, Thought Provoking Thursday, Small Wonder, Playdates with God,  A Little R & R, Beloved Brews, SusanBMead, Faith Along the Way, Cozy Reading Spot, Reflect, Literacy Musing Mondays, Purposeful Faith, The Loft, Words with Winter, Rich Faith Rising, Encourage Me Monday, Tuesday Talk, What to Read Wednesday, Booknificent Thursday, Give Me Grace, Three-Word Wednesday, Word-filled Wednesdays, Faith ‘n Friends, Essential Thing