Book Review: Of Stillness and Storm by Michele Phoenix

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Of Stillness and Storm, written by Michele Phoenix, is the story of Sam and Lauren Coventry.  Their tale unfolds as the author presents alternating chapters between present day and past day, creating not only a story, but a rounded look at the characters and how their relationship evolved from becoming acquainted through theological discussions in college, to mutual admiration, courtship, and marriage.  As a reader, you are thrilled when they are finally able to conceive a baby boy, Ryan and years later, when they are able to take their dreams into the mission field.

You find Sam and Lauren and their son, Ryan, present day, serving as missionaries in Nepal where Sam’s passion for the cause is inspiring, but makes him unaware of the day to day realities his wife and son are facing as he’s often visiting remote villages for weeks at a time.   Relationships become strained and Lauren’s attempts to communicate their family’s needs to Sam are downplayed.  A story that did not interest me at first, soon became compelling as a look into Lauren’s past awakens her need for connection, and subsequently, her family begins to unravel even further.  Of Stillness and Storm offers a sobering look at how ministry has the ability to harm a family and shows one woman’s journey back to God through trials and growth she experiences along the way.

Disclaimer:  A free copy of this book was provided to me for the review, although the opinions expressed are my own.

Check out this giveaway from Michele Phoenix here-hurry it ends December 31st!-  http://litfusegroup.com/campaigns/stillness-storm-michele-phoenix

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How to Love the Life You Live, part 2

 

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If you missed part 1 of this series, you can check it out here.  Part 1 focused on comparison and how that can steal our contentment.  In part 2 of this series, I am going to give you three practical ways to Love the Life You Live.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-17 “Be joyful always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

One way to Love the Life we Live is to realize we are in this together, ladies. God gave us each other so we could grow, learn and share life together. None of us has it completely together, but there is someone who is further along on this life journey than you that you could go to for advice, prayer, or encouragement. Join a women’s bible study or ask someone to mentor you. Invite someone to coffee and ask them how they have handled similar circumstances in their life. Make that appointment with a counselor to help you through a tough season. Invest in relationships with the women in your life. Have a community, a tribe, a squad, whatever you call it, just have good people around you.

Another way to Love the Life you Live is to simply practice gratitude…like the Scripture says: “Be joyful always, give thanks in all circumstances.” I’m going to give you something practical and easy to do that will help cultivate thankfulness in y our life and allow you to see God at work more clearly. Start a gratitude journal. I have a gratitude journal where most days, I take a few minutes to write 5 things that I am thankful for. It really doesn’t take more than a few minutes and it boosts my spirit immensely.

Do you know what I realized once I started doing this? That most days I don’t want to stop at just 5 and that throughout the day, I begin to notice little things that I want to include in that day’s list. It may be something small, like a tiny hand inside of yours as you walk through the store, a sweet text from you husband, breathing in the smell of outside air right before a rain, a good talk with a girlfriend, a perfect rose flowering in your yard. And sometimes it will be bigger-sometimes you will see God answering prayers you’ve been praying for weeks, months or years.

A third way to Love the Life You Live is to recognize truth and live in it. We get a lot of messages these days about what a woman should be like. We should be strong but soft. We should be loving but firm. We should be independent but not bossy. Can I tell you something? You were fearfully and wonderfully made. God created you in His image. Whatever you are gifted at, God made you that way. Your eye color? The way you smile? Not accidental. Purposeful. Put into place by a loving and powerful God. You were fearfully and wonderfully made by the God of this Universe. And that’s the truth. Live in that.

I think about the times when God doesn’t look like we think he should, or he isn’t taking action in the way we expect and we might honestly wonder, “Is that really you, God?” or “Where are you, God?”  At times like that, I’d like to encourage you to just listen to His voice. Let his Word be your guide and take comfort in the truth that He is there. His voice of love should be louder than the other voices in your life.

whatever season you are in, EMBRACE IT.

So I want to encourage you that whatever season you are in, Embrace it. On those days where you are tired of practicing multiplication tables with your third grader, going to high school with some mean girls, wiping another snotty nose, attending another PTO event or listening to a business call, playing chauffeur, cook, maid and secretary, realize that God has allowed you to see special moments that no one else gets to see. What a privilege.

I want to encourage you that whatever role you are in, as wife, mom, stepmom, sister, daughter, babysitter, coworker, consultant, soccer mom, ministry leader, student council member, a caretaker to an aging parent, God has called you to it and equipped you for it.

I want to encourage you that whatever prayers you are praying, He is hearing them. The big answers to prayer may not come in the middle of the heartbreak you are in when you are praying them.

But they do come.

How to Love the Life You Live, part 1

How to love the life you live

You’ve probably heard the phrase, “Live the Life You Love.”  Maybe you’ve seen it penned on cute coffee mugs, t-shirts or magnets.  Maybe it’s lighting up your newsfeed with inspirational photos.  And maybe, dear friend, you are going through a tough season.  So when you see that sentiment, you may honestly think something along the lines of:  “Live the Life You Love….yeah…well, that’s great for a coffee mug (and maybe the person who buys it) but I’m having a hard time seeing God at work right now.  Good for the sweet momma who’s loving her life, but I’m still coming home from work each day and fighting with my husband…dealing with a troubled teenager…being bullied at school…dealing with financial troubles…haven’t been able to get pregnant…was looked over (again) for a job promotion…aching with the loneliness of an empty house…and…”…you fill in the rest.

I’d like to change that phrase up a little and today, talk about

How to Love the Life You Live.

A subtle change, but one that focuses on loving your life, despite your circumstances.

Ladies, I want to talk to you about something I think women of all ages deal with, and that is COMPARISON. And I want you to know that comparison is the enemy of contentment.  Pastor Steven Furtick, a pastor and author from North Caroline puts it this way, “The reason a lot of us deal with insecurity is because we are comparing our behind the scenes with everyone else’s highlight reel.”

Insecurity

Think about that for a moment.  You’ve probably seen an end of the season highlight reel at an awards banquet or sports ceremony, and it does show all kinds of smiling faces, adversity that has been overcome, and you leave with a feeling of joy and accomplishment!  BUT what those slide shows don’t show is the blood, sweat and tears. The sprained ankles, the games the team lost, the fight that broke out between the coach and the referee. The look on the kicker’s face who missed what could have been the winning point. The behind the scenes stuff.

Even Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram can give us a kind of envy for other people’s lives.  We see sweet family photos, where everyone is smiling and there’s a beautiful filter surrounding it that seems almost magical. And we get envious. What we probably don’t know is that right after that family photo, there was a meltdown from the two-year-old when he pitched such a fit that he threw himself on the ground and busted a lip, crying all the way home while the parents fought in the front seat. But we don’t see that in their sweet family photo. Right?

Now, am I saying you shouldn’t celebrate your sweet moments on social media? Absolutely not. If you enjoy doing that, like I do, then by all means, capture those moments as you celebrate your beautiful life. Social media can be a virtual scrapbook. But I don’t think you should unjustly compare yourself against others. You never really know the back story. If social media causes you to become discontent, consider taking a break from it for awhile…whether it be for a week, a month, on the weekends, or limiting your time there. You might be amazed at how much happier you are focusing on what’s going on in your world instead of imagining what it’s like for others.

Because comparison is the enemy of content.

Part 2 of this series can be found here.

#TBT: The Field Trip that Changed Me Forever

Sixth grade.  1986.  I had the coolest feathered hair, apparently still liked teddy bears, and wore long, dangly earrings.  I mean, it was 1986, who didn’t?  (If you look very closely at my sixth grade photo below, you may be able to ascertain that the earrings are actually a rotary phone and the dangly part is the receiver.  What can I say?  I was cutting edge…What’s a rotary phone, you say? Well, it was “so 1986” is all you whippersnappers need to know. CUTTING EDGE, I SAY.)  But I digress.

5th grade

My family had made a big move from Moore, Oklahoma to Winter Park, Florida over Halloween of my fifth grade year.  At first, it was extremely difficult leaving the only place I really remembered as being my home, not to mention our church, my friends, my school and everything that was familiar because Oklahoma was my world.  That kind of move is extremely dramatic to a fifth grader.

Living in Florida did have its perks, I soon found out, as my family spent our first Thanksgiving in Florida having a picnic lunch on the sand of Daytona Beach.  We had the beautiful, sandy space to ourselves, watching the waves crash and seagulls flying overhead as we munched on sandwiches and chips on a blanket.  Also, now that we were official Florida residents, we qualified for a special season pass to Walt Disney World & Epcot Center…guys, it was $30 per person and we could go as often as we wanted during their three slowest months.  Um…hello perk!  (And hello 1986!) Guess how we spent our days off school??  Speaking of school, Aloma Elementary was a pretty cool school, too.  I was boy crazy for these Florida surfer types, participated in musical and theatrical productions put on by our school, joined a competitive gymnastics team at the local Y, and looked forward to the Sixth Grade field trip in January to Cape Canaveral, Florida – the Kennedy Space Center.

Teachers and students all across America had eyes on Florida that week, as this particular NASA mission had a teacher named Christa McAuliffe joining the crew.  History was being made by putting the first private citizen in space.  Teacher Christa McAuliffe trained with the astronaut crew and prepared educational lessons that would be broadcast from space.  Pretty stinkin’ cool.  Our sixth grade field trip to the Kennedy Space Center was scheduled for a day that the Challenger might launch.  We had the chance to literally be on site as the rocket blasted out of the atmosphere, rumbling the earth below us and breaking the sound barrier above us.  I said might launch because lift-off had  been scheduled since January 22, but the Challenger did not pass all necessary inspections the previous days, some of which were weather-related.  Our group of sixth graders loaded busses on January 27 and unloaded with numerous other excited school groups at the Kennedy Space Center.  We found out early into our morning that the Challenger had not been cleared to launch on January 27th,  so instead of spending much of our field trip outside as close to the launch pad as possible, we spent most of it inside the (much warmer) Kennedy Space Center, soaking up exhibitions, models and dreaming of being an astronaut (or a teacher in space) someday ourselves.  It was glorious.

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So the NEXT day, on January 28th, 1986, back at Aloma Elementary, my classmates and I  learned that the Challenger HAD BEEN CLEARED TO LAUNCH, so all sixth grade classes took their lunches outside during our designated lunch hour, and pointed our eyes to the sky.  Around 11:28 am we watched what looked like a small rocket (from where we sat in the school yard playground) and a smoke plume following it, both rising higher and higher through the blue sky.  We were close enough to hear the sonic boom with our own ears as the shuttle broke the atmospheric barrier.  After that, I thought I was seeing the rocket boosters separate from the shuttle, as two separate smoke spirals made their way out of the original one.  A few short minutes later, we filed back into our classroom and the TV/VCR cart was up front.  In 1986 the classrooms were not equipped with TV’s, so seeing that cart meant we would be watching an “educational” movie on a VHS tape.  Except this time it didn’t.

Our teacher was somber.  It was at that moment that I learned from her that the two spirals I had seen were, in fact, NOT the rocket boosters separating, but the Space Shuttle Challenger exploding and debris falling back to Earth.  All seven occupants of the shuttle were declared dead.  The mood changed drastically as we spent the remainder of the day watching news report after news report of this tragedy, which occurred in the exact same spot we had been at 24 hours earlier.  We whispered disbelief to each other, wondering how this could happen, mourning Christa McAullife, who we all felt connected with, although we did not know her.  We felt personally intertwined with this tragedy, having studied the crew and the Space Program for weeks prior to our field trip with excitement building,  THEN having been on site on the day it “almost” launched and THEN watching it from the schoolyard the day it did launch and finding out it ultimately exploded in front of our eyes.  We sat with all of America in stunned silence.

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I went on a field trip on January 27, 1986 that changed me forever.  What I watched happen in the sky on January 28th, 1986 was an absolutely terrible, harrowing loss for ourselves as individuals and as Americans.

But how this experience changed me may might not be what you think.

That field trip changed me forever by:

  • Teaching me that Americans pull together in crisis, every time, exhibiting an indescribable united spirit; that America is beautiful.
  • Introducing me to tragedy, grief and loss in a way that helped me navigate through other times in my life that I’ve had to deal with these issues on a more personal level.
  • Showing me that heroes do exist, and a lot of times they look like ordinary people.
  • Allowing me to still be fascinated by something amazing like space exploration, despite one gigantic and tragic public failure.
  • Letting me know, that despite tragedy, taking risks can still be worth it.

As President Reagan said in his speech to the nation that night, “I want to say something to the schoolchildren of America who were watching the live coverage of the shuttle’s takeoff.  I know it is hard to understand, but sometimes painful things like this happen.  It’s all part of the process of exploration and discovery.  It’s all a part of taking a chance and expanding man’s horizon’s.  The future doesn’t belong to the faint-hearted, it belongs to the brave.  The Challenger crew was pulling us into the future, and we’ll continue to follow them.”

So I say, whether you’re a sixth grader of a forty-something adult, let’s honor this 30th anniversary of the Space Shuttle Challenger Disaster by encouraging each other with this mantra:

Let’s Be Brave.

 

 

 

2015: Bye Felicia! (Why I’m glad to say good bye to 2015 & hello to 2016)

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2015 wasn’t my favorite.  And while nothing major or life-altering happened negatively, there was just a heaviness over a lot of the year.  Relationships were strained, finances were difficult, depression and anxiety decided to show up and stick around awhile and no matter what I tried, things were just difficult.

Now please know that I am not being a Debbie Downer, I absolutely cherish and love so many moments from 2015.  I have a sweet, amazing family.  My friendships are rich, my job is fulfilling.  I work for an incredible organization.  I was a part of many neat events.  Our home is my happy place and it’s warm and cozy.  I see blessings every day that I am thankful for and so not worthy of.  Jesus is my rock and gives me unconditional love daily.

But I think it’s OK to say it if you’ve had a tough year. 

So I say with exuberance, “Bye, Felicia!” to 2015 & “Hello!” to 2016.

I absolutely love new beginnings….I’m one of those people who is a sucker for fresh planners, empty calendars pages, new pens, and a new start.  On January 1st, 2016, I literally felt a release, as a sense of peace and expectation washed over me.  And I was so grateful.

So let’s look together, in 2016, with fresh faces and opportunities, no matter what kind of 2015 you had.  Maybe your 2015 was good.  Great, let’s celebrate that and see what 2016 has to offer.  Maybe your 2015 brought some hurts that you are reeling from.  If at all possible, let’s leave those in 2015.  2016 is new.  It’s different.  It opens new possibilities. And for me, I believe it brings restoration and rebuilding.  Maybe it does for you, too.  Who will join me in saying, “Hello, 2016-Can I give you a hug??”

Isaiah 43:19 “See, I am doing a new thing!  Now  it springs up; do you not perceive it?  I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.”

What We Can Learn From a Sunflower

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I’ve noticed patches of sunflowers in the last few weeks, brightening fields alongside the highway and other parts of town as I drive during my day.  Have you?

It got me thinking.  Here are a few things we can learn from the sunflower:

  1. Bloom Where You Are Planted – Sunflowers seem to grow in the unlikeliest of places.  Do you find yourself in a situation that you or others do not see as ideal?  This could be a time to grow and bloom anyway.  Sometimes the risk to remain tight in a bud is greater than the risk it takes to bloom.
  2. Keep Your Face Toward the Sunshine And Shadows Will Fall Behind You – No matter what you’re facing, if you keep your eyes on the Sun ( the Son, Jesus Christ), the darkness will fall behind you.   “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” — John 1:5
  3. Even On The Darkest Days, You can Stand Tall & Find the Sunlight – Friend, when you can’t see light past the darkness, it’s there.  Stand tall and you will find the sunlight.

As you notice the sunflowers in your daily path, let it be a reminder to you that beautiful things grow in unlikely places, looking toward the sun makes the shadows fall behind you and that even on the darkest days, you can stand tall and find the sunlight.  If a sunflower can do it, so can we.