Tuesday, October 27, 2015

books for fall 2015

Aren't books wonderful? I am reading so many wonderful new and old books, I can't not tell the world. The stack on my bedside table is sky-high, and they call to me with their siren song on the chilly Fall days. I've listed out my current reads below, and all the cold weather can start now so I can get under a furry blanket with some cocoa and lose myself in the pages.

But I'm always looking for my next must-read. What are you reading this Fall? What book do you think everyone should read because it stuck in your head and in your heart and made you into something new? Don't leave a girl scrounging for books. Leave your favorites in the comments!!

1. Vango and A Prince Without a Kingdom. These are super fun adventure/historic fiction YA Lit set in the pre-WW2 era. The story line is complex, and my middle schooler couldn't keep up very well, but in a couple of years my boys will love this series as much as I did.

2. The Paris Wife. I read this historic fiction about Ernest Hemingway and his first wife a couple of months ago, and it has stayed with me. I want to read it again already.

3. Little Women. Nothing feels cozier on a windy Fall evening than this book, a fire, and a cup of cocoa. I know new books are delicious, but there's a reason classics are classics. Little women is like the joy of Christmas in a book, and the adorable cover art on this version is so happy I can hardly bear it.


1. For the Love. Jen Hatmaker has written the funniest, truest, best book about life and God and people. It's amazing. 

2. Daring Greatly and Rising Strong. Brene Brown has researched shame and vulnerability and her books are life-changing. Her TED talks have been viewed in the millions, and there is good reason for that. Her writing has shaped me as a person, a mom, and a leader. I'm forever grateful.

3. Hot Mama. This is an honest and inspiring book about sex and our marriages, and being set free as women in this false-image-based culture we have found ourselves in. Make yourself happy, make your husband swoon: read this book.

4. Talk Like TED. I am LOVING THIS. It's about public speaking, but it's also about passion and skill and communicating with the people around us. Plus, it tells the stories behind some of the most popular TED talks, which is fascinating.

5. Bird by Bird. Anne Lamott is so fun to read. She has witty and insightful advice about writing and life-in-general in this book. Any writers out there should definitely read this.

For more books I have loved, you can view these posts: 

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

the hands of leadership

In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.
Philippians 1:4-6

Since I became a Christian in 1994, I have probably had hundreds of people pray for me. I can’t really remember all the prayers, only a vague fragrance of whispered hope and neediness woven through the years.

However, there is definitely one prayer I can’t forget.

It was the last Sunday before I moved to Austin from LA. I was engaged to my future minister/husband. A friend grabbed my hands and said, “Lord, I pray you would give Carrie the hands of a minister’s wife.”

I froze up a little. I wasn’t sure I really wanted the hands of a minister’s wife. Also, I detected a hint of pity in her voice. I suddenly recalled how many women I knew who had told me that they did NOT want to be pastor’s wives. That was when I remembered I was one of them.

Oh, snap. I was marrying the wrong man!

Then I thought about Morgan and how much I loved him, and I let that happy thought push the paranoid fear out of my mind. The truth was, it didn’t matter what I was getting myself into, because I knew what I wanted most: to love God first and Morgan second. 

Surely I could handle whatever came along with the role of “minister’s wife”. Surely.

This is how you get out of your depth in life, one blind leap of love at a time.

After the wedding fun ended, we settled into our routine. We worked as campus missionaries at the University of Texas. We made enough money to barely get by. We took a job at our apartment complex to make rent. We paid for our dollar theater tickets in nickels dug out from the bottom of the sofa. I worked several jobs so that we could eat things like cheese and meat.

It wasn't the lack of funds that was surprising about our new life, though. The greatest shock to me about ministry life was the amount of time I had to spend with... people

I’m sure I should have had a clue about that, but I didn’t. I'm intimidated by large groups of people, horrible at remembering names, and if given a choice between small talk with new people and minor surgery, I would choose to be knocked out.

During the drive to the weekly campus meeting I usually leaned my seat all the way back and cried like a big ol’ baby. I apparently had some minister wife’s hands but not the proper backbone for the job. In hindsight, I should have called my friend and asked her for a new prayer, one with some sort of kick to it, like a good "Deliver her, O Lord of Hosts!" or something along those lines.

But instead I leaned back and cried until it got easier, until my hands grew stronger, and until God met me in the middle of my mess.

All these years later I still lean back and wail a bit when this life leads forever and ever on into more challenging waters than I expected. Being a leader means living on the open sea, far beyond comfortable waters. 

My friend's prayer was spot-on though, because leadership is really all about our hands. It is the miracle of loaves and fishes in our own humble grasp. We break our lives open and pass out the portions of talent and energy we have been given. We build warm fires that will win even the coldest of enemies into trusted friends. And we punch our fear in the face when necessary.

God is asking all of us to do only this one thing with our lives: He wants us to cling to him with the hands we have been given.

There is no pity necessary for those who reach out for Him. We are the fortunate ones, who have learned that every prayer, whether remembered or forgotten, has carried us deeper into the love that named us, saved us, and set us free.

I once thought I was marrying the man I loved, and the rest would naturally follow. But I was really following the God I loved into more than I ever realized I wanted. This is the way He leads us so He can make us complete, His own finished work of grace, and His privileged partners in the gospel.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

heroic love

I look at my four growing children and marvel. Strong and able hands have replaced the soft, grasping fingers of their baby days. Legs that wobbled along now stride confidently through the world. They need me for less and less as the days tick off the calendar.

I know that's how it ought to be. This magical process of growing up is everything we all want and expect, but a mother marvels regardless.

Their bodies don't seem to need much encouragement to mature. It is a force of nature. But what of their courage and their character? What of their ability to love what is good and hate what is evil- even in their own hearts? Well, that takes time and a great deal of attention.

Since they were tiny, Morgan and I have fed them fairy tales: dragons, queens, knights, kings, princesses, elves, magic rings, and noble heroes who stop evil lords have been a staple in our home. Love and loyalty, sacrifice and nobility, friendship and humility, these are the food of the soul.

But the greatest of these is love. Love is the source of security and greatness and power to overcome the darkness. It chases away fear and it lights the way home. Love is a refuge and a shield. Love saves our souls and it saves the day.

And so we tell them a million times a day, "I love you."

Then we tell them, "But there is a God who loves you even more than Mommy and Daddy do."

We know the day is coming that they will need the love of God more than the love of their parents. Our love can comfort our children, but His love can unleash Light within their souls.

Love will lead them to a moment that their belief in Love will falter. A day will come when they will have to believe they are loved even when their circumstances don't feel loving. That moment will be like sugar crystallizing into the sweetest rock their soul will ever know.

It will be their turn to slay the dragon, to undo the evil spell, and to lift up the shield even though it is awkward and heavy for their young arms. They will live the love all the stories taught them to long for in their souls.

Maybe you are in that kind of moment. Maybe Love has led you to this day, this post, and these words.

And so God has reached His hand out from heaven, and is writing your name on today. This is the day The Lord has made for you.

Let's talk about the very beginning, before anyone stood in this world, before any brave story had been told. In the beginning, God spoke and He made all things. He formed people in His image from the dust.

And then He breathed life into them.

We are God's very breath.

Have you ever tried to hold your breath for very long? Have you ever had a person stifle your breath with their hand, or keep your head under the pool water in a rowdy game of chicken?

The desperation in your smothered body rises and grows. All you want is to be able to open your mouth and pull air back into your lungs and breathe again.

That is what happened to God; sin stole His breath.

God has always been determined to get His breath back. That is the definition of love- not a feeling, not an emotion, but an undying commitment to never be separated from that which is valuable and precious to you.

None of us have really been loved like that by fallen people. Nor have we been able to love like that, not every day, without failing.

But God has loved you like that since before you breathed your first breath.

When you stumbled through darkness, God was loving you- His breath- like that. He pointed your path over rocks and boulders, through fire and ice, to this day.

It is a simple, terrifying leap of faith to decide that what God says about us is more true than everything else that has ever been said about us.

But before you were a baby crying out for care, or a child calling for help in the middle of the night, or a hopeless teenager standing on a ledge, or a lonely lover with nowhere to turn, you were His breath.

Allow God the right to have His breath back, to hold you, to breathe again in you as He longs to doWe are all the lost coin, the pearl of great price, and the treasure of a million kingdoms that He has sailed many miles to bring home. Don't hold our breath a moment longer, let your lungs fill with His truth and know: You are God's fairy tale.

Happily ever after is not a dream, it's our destiny....

Friday, October 9, 2015

midlife marriage: an ode to love

He and I, we know we are among the lucky ones. Every time one of our single friends laments the lack of good options out there, we feel the breeze made by the bullet we dodged just by falling in love with each other.

Swoosh. There it goes again.

One swoosh leads to another and we find we are suddenly in the middle years of life. The last four decades are garlands of grace some days and other days we can’t deny the truth: we are getting old. Mirrors do not lie, and neither do small children: “Your skin is so floppy, Mommy!” (Bless it.) 

We have mostly accepted the irreversible damage the sun has done to our skin. We face the horrifying reality of being the age our parents were when we began high school. (We graduated in the 1990s, which I still think of as ten years ago. What can I say except that math is hard.) 

Just for fun, we google things like “arthritis relief” and “unhealthy moles”. We ask our kids questions like “What exactly does bae mean?” We aren’t young, but we aren’t really old, either. We’re just...here.

I suppose I believed Rod Stewart’s song alone could keep us forever young. I planned for both of us to spontaneously combust into old people on my ninetieth birthday. I would wake up, put on a pair of gold metallic sneakers and hand him a jaunty fedora and a rolled up newspaper. Our golden years would begin with a bang.

So, fifteen years later, it’s been a bit of a surprise to find most of our days are fairly unromantic buzzkills. By nine o’clock every night, all we want is for all the children to go to bed right now. We want to watch Netflix or disappear into a book in our attempt to forget the day’s real work/kid/personal drama. By eleven o’clock we go to bed.

Forty is the most tired decade of our lives.

There are nights I lie in bed after he’s asleep and I wonder if he and I could become the kind of people who shake their heads and say those cliche words: “We just don’t love each other any more.” My heart rejects the idea, though. NO. We could not become those people. I remember how we got here, and our story can’t end like that.

It is a mystery, the way each person’s story forms around their moments and days. I wonder how much power we have over the story he and I are writing together right now. Can we make it and still be happy together just by sheer desire?

The unfortunate truth is that love and commitment are sold separately too often in this world. I found neither during my university years. But oddly enough, a few years after graduation, I found them both in this one old college friend. We have known each other now for more than half our lives, which is completely ridiculous and borders even on puritanical when I say it out loud. 

How do we maintain our street cred, I ask you, when we live in a house filled with four kids, one little dog, and the general sense that this life is more than we deserve? (We don’t. Thus the need for a good midlife crisis.)

I first saw him during my freshman year of college. I felt absolutely...nothing. No sparks. No heavenly harps of destiny. No butterflies in my stomach reciting Shakespeare’s sonnets while rainbows fell from the sky. He sat on my friend Christy’s sofa, next to his perfect girlfriend, strumming Beatles songs across guitar strings. I breezed past them to the kitchen, brain-dead to any siren song of fate.

He thought my shorts were a little too short. (So judgmental and prudish of him, don’t you think?) I was definitely not his kind of girl. At nineteen years old, despite the fact his only worldly possessions were a guitar, twelve t-shirts, and a bike, he already knew someday he would marry that girl to his left. His future was all planned, and the girl with the too-short shorts was a non-factor. I barely existed.

Somehow we became friends. His girlfriend was jealous and we found her feelings absurd, but really cute.

It wasn’t like we were in love or anything.  

The next year we lived next door to each other. He was nursing a broken heart after breaking up with his perfect girl. Neither of us was looking for more than friendship. We walked to class together. We played cards together. We talked for hours into the night. When he looked at me, I could tell he was the first person who had ever really seen me.

But we weren’t in love.

I moved thousands of miles away at the end of our sophomore year. We stood in the driveway, purposely not saying goodbye. He stared at me over the roof of his silver Honda. There was a strange and painful sensation in my chest. I had no words to make sense of my sadness, so I squeezed his hand and waved as he drove away.

We weren’t in love, but I cried hard and ugly for an hour after he left.

Years went by, and we talked every once in a while. We graduated. We got jobs. We called each other on our birthdays. We had lives and plans that didn’t include each other.

I kept a photo of him in an album. He was frozen in time with a big group of our old friends. Everyone else was smiling, but his mouth was turned up in a little amused smirk. The look in his eyes made me nervous, like he knew something I didn’t. I sort of wanted to punch him right between those eyes.

I was pretty sure he didn’t love me. I felt exactly the same about him.

One summer I took a trip to visit my old college friends. In a pizza place with a giant dinosaur on the wall, my true feelings for him landed in my lap before the pizza was on our plates. The shock I felt cannot be put into words. (Him?? I love...him???) He figured it out a few days later. Neither of us said anything. I drove home across four states with tears rolling down my face. I hid in my life far away from him because I suddenly felt six years of love all at once. 

My love for him wasn’t just a feeling or a desire. It wasn’t what I chose, and maybe it wasn’t even what I necessarily wanted. I simply realized that he and I had somehow become love. Or maybe we had always been love without ever realizing it. One thing was certain: we would never be anything else again.

Eventually we were married under a palm tree. A spider landed on my bare shoulder during the vows and I laughed at the ridiculous way life surprises us by being perfect and awful all at once.

In the beginning of our marriage I thought my job was to make everything better for him, and that all he needed was a simple combination of Mother Teresa, Julia Child, and Marilyn Monroe. I know differently now.

I know that all he ever really needed was for me to be me. The best part about the midlife experience is I am too tired to fix everyone. There are nights I cry in the shower because of all the things I can't fix for the people I love. I go to sleep with prayers for help on my lips and a heart in my chest that dreams of hope.

In the morning, ordinary light streams in through our windows, and my eyes open a crack. The beehive shapes in the wallpaper slowly come into focus. Reality and life grow clearer one breath at a time.

His arm slides over me and pulls my body close to his. I empty myself out and sink into the memory of a million magical embraces. Everything is going to be okay.

Right here, in the middle of all the years and all the things we can't fix, we are right where we belong because we are together.

(Even if he does still think my shorts are too short.)

Thursday, October 1, 2015

me too, you guys.

It was a cold winter day and we saw our friend on the corner with a cardboard sign in her hand. It's been a long time since we saw her out on the streets. Homelessness is hard to process.

And I feel I have to ask you now, what are you most ashamed of?

I am beginning to think this is one of the most important questions we can ask one another.

I grew up with a sneaking suspicion that there was a great flaw in the fabric of my true self. A lot of people tried to tell me I was fine. I knew they had good intentions. I never believed them, though. 

I knew that I had a black mark against me. I just couldn't really tell you what it was exactly that I had to hide.

It took many years for me to learn that it was actually worse than I thought. There wasn't just "something" wrong. The problem was that not a single thing about me was right. I was a wretched soul without God.

I was Eve, hiding behind poorly fitted coverings, hoping God Himself wouldn't notice me there in the dark. My soul was naked and I was ashamed of who I was.

For me all of this looked like starving myself, working out in secret, and generally hating who I was. 

Shame looks different on other people, though. It can look like cutting, perfectionism, hiding in books, a long list of achievements, drug addiction, or sleeping with anyone who will take the time to compliment your new dress. Shame can even look like a big smile and the answer, "I'm fine, how are you?"

We are all playing the same game of hide and seek here. Everybody is either hiding or valiantly stepping out and saying, "Here I am, world. I'm a mess. Let's work it out."

It's terrifying to come out of the safe place of rejection or pride, to climb the walls that keep all the scary crap of life a good distance away- our failure, our hope that died, our broken heart, and our long lost naivete are out there in the light along with joy and peace and hope. 

Joy and pain seem to be a package deal in this fallen world.

Here's the amazing thing: every time one of us gets the nerve to step out and admit that we're garbage inside unless God saves us; when we embrace the pain of our need for Him and the joy of knowing His love; it makes more space for the rest of us out there in the light.

We stand there naked and brave and say "Me too," to all the hidden people around us. Suddenly everything changes. That's when real life begins.

When my husband and I saw our friend standing there like that, we called her over to the car to say hello. My heart broke as I thought of all she's been through the last few years. There have been many victories, and a few hard losses, too. 

"How are you doing?" we asked.

"Oh, just trying to keep warm," she said with a sad smile on her face. 

The traffic started moving before I had the chance to tell her, "Me too, girl."

Because even here in my car with the thermostat set to "Max Heat" I still feel a kind of naked and a little afraid that I don't have what it takes to make it.

My friend and I have lives that look different, full of struggles that seem to be from opposite ends of the galaxy. But she and I have the most important thing in common: we're a total mess without God's grace. The real shame would be to live like that's not the most important thing of all.

No matter where we stand today, or what we hold in our hands, we're all made for glory. Tonight I pray 2 Thessalonians 1 for all my fellow hide-and-seekers out there. I'm looking straight at your shame and holding mine out here in the wide open place. 

Me too, you guys. Me too.

"To this end also we pray for you always, that our God will count you worthy of your calling, and fulfill every desire for goodness and the work of faith with power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus will be glorified in you, and you in Him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ."
2 Thessalonians 1:11-12