Colorful Book Spines

Focus in the Fog

You're doing great.

My kid does that too!

No...that's not crazy.

This season will pass.

You are loved.

You have no idea how talented you are.

These are some simple words of encouragement.  


Maybe, like most of us, a little bit of encouragement helps you keep going.  You can find that here.

 

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We all know the power of words. Whether hurtful words that cut deep or encouraging words that acted as a salve for those wounds. We have the power to do so much with our words.

Proverbs 16:24 says:

“Gracious words are a honeycomb,

sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.”

It makes me think of this anonymous saying: "Taste your words before you spit them out." If your words are bitter or sour, maybe just swallow them. If they taste sweet, proceed.


A quick note on truth. It doesn't matter if our words sound sweet if they aren't true. Let's not get caught up in the mania that suggests it's impossible to discover the truth anymore. Truth is truth. We can have different feelings or interpretations on truth but we can't have different truths. That's just not how truth works.


Now, back to my main point. Last Wednesday as I watched the inauguration, I stopped dead in my tracks as Amanda Gorman, the first ever youth poet laureate, recited her exquisite poem “The Hill We Climb”. If words are measured by their sweetness, I think poetry is crème brûlée. We can be intimidated by the language which is like the crunchy outer layer. But if we're able to break through the caramelized sugar, what's underneath is rich and smooth and really, really sweet.


Amanda Gorman's words were definitely crème brûlée. Don’t allow your politics to keep you from watching this clip. If you saw it, watch it again. If you avoided the inauguration, please listen to this incredible, young person teach us a thing or two about hope.


When I taught high school English, I always looked forward to the poetry unit at the end of the year -not just because it was the end of the year. At the beginning of each class, I read a poem without revealing the title or author. I didn’t want students to got hung up on those things. I just wanted them to hear the words. Then, I used a series of questions to help them reflect on the poems. Their responses were fascinating because there was no rhyme or reason for which poems resonated with which students. But one thing was clear -poetry didn’t just make them think. It made them feel.


In my first book Silvery Moon, the main character is moved by a poem recited by an older student in school. In fact, that recitation is what inspires Isabel to be a poet herself. It’s the moment when she realizes that poetry may be the vehicle for her to finally find her voice.


Like my Isabel, Amanda Gorman used poetry to find her voice as a young girl. Fun fact: she also uses poetry recitation for speech therapy. According to an interview with Anderson Cooper, Amanda Gorman (like Cooper and President Biden) struggles with a speech impediment. There are sounds that are very difficult for her, yet her performance felt flawless. (It must be working). In fact, she often raps along with Leslie Odom Jr. to the song “Aaron Burr, Sir” from Hamilton. She says the song helps her practice the “R” sound which is struggle for her. That connection made me love her even more.


Speech impediment or not, Gorman’s words are in inspiration. They offer hope in a time when it’s needed most. Gorman hopes to “reclaim poetry to purify the power of words”. She also said this of hope:

“Hope isn’t something that we ask of others,

it’s something that we demand from ourselves.”


Our words may not be as pretty as hers, but they are powerful. We too can offer hope with our words. Sometimes the simplest phrases are what’s needed.

Things like:


I’m sorry.


I’m here.


Let’s figure it out together.


I believe things will get better.


I care about you.

You are loved.

No matter how poetic we are, let’s use our words to offer hope. Allow them to be therapy for those who need them the most. Let’s heal some bones with our honeycomb words. And if we want to get really fancy, let's make some crème brûlée. Either with our words or in our kitchens because...power of suggestion. Also, I've made it before and it's not that difficult.

Blessings,

Shannon



The Great Commission

I’m a part of 678 which is the middle school ministry at my church. Last week, I had the privilege of seeing my group of 7th grade girls for the first time in weeks. The leadership had set up an awesome event at the movie theatre so we could social distance with masks, but still all be together. In the midst of a stressful week with more questions than answers, seeing these kind, hopeful, resilient kids did wonders for my soul. The director of 678 gave us a couple of verses to memorize this week -Matthew 28:19-20. “Ah,” I thought. “The Great Commission.” I mentally patted myself on the back since I already had it memorized. The next morning when I pulled out my handy 678 book for daily Bible reading, the verses stared me in the face begging me to reflect on them.

19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.

Here’s the Problem:

In this political climate, when people (many of them “Christians”) broke into the Capitol to try to overthrow the election, it’s a tough time to think about The Great Commission. Events in the past few months, years even, haven’t been a good look for the church in the United States. It makes it really hard to talk about my faith knowing the images that may conjure in someone’s minds about my beliefs and my motives.


Can’t I just keep it to myself?

This is a weird time to be a Christian. Why choose now to publicize it?

But then, God whispers in my ear:

“I’ve commanded this.”


Me: But, God, this is a weird time.


“I’ve commanded this.”


Me: But people have done terrible things in your name.


“That’s not new. And don’t forget, I commanded this.”

He commanded it. And even if He didn’t, I’ve been given the hope found in Jesus. Why wouldn’t I want to share that with a world that is so starved for it? I love coffee and my kids and books. And if you know me, I’ve probably told you about one of those things at some point. Shouldn’t my devotion to Jesus be stronger than my devotion to coffee?

When I was in high school, a bunch of people from the band decided to steal little trinkets while they were on a trip to Disney World. They got caught and it was a nightmare for our school. I hated seeing people on the news (and even Jay Leno) talk about us like we were all thieves. Even a few years later, when I went to college and mentioned my alma mater, people said, “Isn’t that the school where everybody stole stuff?”

I was so mad at those kids who made all of us look bad. Truth be told, I feel that way about the church right now. And not just for defending horrifying behavior, but for fighting all the wrong battles.

Back in high school I was annoyed because people from my school were giving me a bad name. But that didn’t change the fact that we all went to the same school. I can be embarrassed by the Church, but we are all one body.

1 Corinthians 12:12 says: “Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ.”

How does the church move forward?

I don’t claim to have all the answers, and I often misrepresent Jesus, but what if we got back to the basics? What I mean is, we’re never going to all agree on politics. We can’t even decide what’s true anymore. We’ll be divided by issues, but if we choose to fight the right battles? If we simply do what we’ve been commanded (starting with the great commission) we can be more united. Imagine what the Church could do for the world if we behaved as one body instead of a bunch of severed body parts.

How do I participate in the great commission right now?

  1. Make it personal. Our goal is not to start a debate, but to share. If someone comes up to me and tells me I’m wrong, I get defensive. But if they tell me their experience, I want to hear it. Remember that when sharing your faith.

  2. Be genuine. We’ve all heard canned speeches. Whether it’s a telemarketer or a dude coming to the door to sell a security system, it’s a script. And that’s fine, but that’s not how you should share your faith. Don’t make a conversation with a friend feel like you’re trying to get them to sell Amway. Just talk to them. If you are a follower of Jesus, it shouldn’t be tough to talk about it. Grandparents don’t need much prompting to show pictures of their grandkids because they love them. We shouldn’t need a script to talk about Jesus.

  3. Try not to point fingers. Like I said, the past few years haven’t been a good look for the American church. But blaming and name-calling will only cause further division. If our reputation is bad, that means we have more work to do. Let’s do the work to show people who Jesus is.

  4. Think about Jesus. Read passages from when Jesus walked this earth and dealt with real people and real chaos. Watch His example of grace and love. Ask Him to help you love others the way he does. Pray daily that the Holy Spirit will lead you.


If you turn on any news channel or open social media, it’s obvious we live in a nation that is in dire need of the saving grace of Jesus. He could have used rocks or mountains to tell the world about him, but he chose us. Let’s get to work doing what he commanded. If we do, we will stand united and others will see that unity and come to know our God. What a day that will be!

Let’s Go!

Shannon


Coming off a traumatic week, I was wracking my brains. What should I write about? Do I add to the noise of everything that’s going on? It felt insensitive to write about something else. By Saturday morning, it occurred to me that in the midst of the events taking place in our nation’s capital and at the capitol, I hadn’t really spent any time with God.

I had laid awake refreshing Facebook. I had read dozens of articles and seen even more horrifying images. I had experienced nausea, sleeplessness, a racing heart, and headaches. I had participated in Facebook discussions. I had liked posts urging me to pray for our nation. But do you know what I didn’t do? I didn’t pray. Maybe a quick “Dear God. What’s happening?” was uttered under my breath, but I didn’t fall to my knees and cry out to God. But why?

If I were to put the events of last week into one word, it would be CHAOS. As humans, we all deal differently with chaos. But many of us close off. We feel alone and so we cocoon in that isolation pulling away from others and from God. I know I have a tendency to do this. But when I’m in it, I can’t recognize it until it passes.

One thing I should always remind myself in these moments, is that I’m allowing the enemy to win. In times of stress or trauma, the enemy wants me to feel hopeless, cut off, and numb. He succeeded this week because I felt all of those things.

Saturday night, I spent some time talking to my husband. And although we had dialogued a number of times throughout the week, he helped me process some of the things I’d been feeling. Suddenly, I didn’t feel so alone.

A good friend of mine shared a story this week on Facebook. It’s one I’ve heard before, but its timing was perfect. It was about a man who had pulled away from church. His pastor came to visit, but he could see that the man wasn’t in the mood to talk. They both spent some time sitting and watching a fire dance in the fireplace. The pastor took out one log and set it on the hearth. In a few short minutes, the log that was once an red, burning ember, was black and cold. Then, he put the log back into the fire and it immediately ignited. The man thanked the pastor for his sermon and then the pastor left.

Isolation isn’t a good place to be in times of crisis. Unfortunately, we’re in the midst of a pandemic, so it’s tough to find connection. And social media isn’t the connection we need. We need to hear the voice of a trusted friend. We need to connect with those in our household and we need to connect with our Creator who knows us better than we know ourselves. A verse I found comfort in this morning is John 16:33 ESV:

“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

When I think of the images I’ve seen this week, I know I won’t soon get them out of my head, but I know that my God heals.

When I think of the future over the next few days, weeks, and months, I’m sick with nerves. But I can have peace.

When I see headlines that feel like I’m reading a dystopian novel, I remember that God never promised everything would be easy, but that He’s with me and He has overcome the world.

As you process this week and the weeks to come, don’t pull away. Surround yourself with people who speak truth into your life. Continue doing whatever it is you do for self-care. I read a great article about dealing with trauma (even from afar) that had some great tips for keeping healthy mentally and spiritually. I urge you to check it out. But, no matter what, try to remember that though in this world we will have tribulation, Jesus has overcome the world.

I’m not suggesting your bury your head in the sand, but resting in that fact is important. Stay informed from more than one source. Don’t obsess or dwell on images that are not helpful. Don’t neglect yourself, but also don’t try to numb your feelings with alcohol, sleep, or food. Talk to God. Even if it’s not something you do regularly. Read the Bible. If you don’t know where to start, download the Bible app on your phone and look for a reading plan that interests you. If you have friends on the app, ask them to join you. We were made to be in the fire with others not cold and alone on the hearth.

I wish I could say this is all behind us, but it’s not. The next few weeks will probably bring more stress and conflict. But Jesus has still overcome the world. Take comfort in that. You are in my prayers.

Blessings,

Shannon

 
 

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