This Is Us and the Dignity of Human Emotion

***This article contains minor spoilers for the pilot episode of NBC’s This Is Us*** 

Birthdays. Frustration. Houseguests. Laughter. Annoyance. A glass of wine. Romance. Career changes. Body image. Sorrow. Trying again.

Feels like family, doesn’t it?

Through a series of vignettes, NBC’s new drama This Is Us conjures up those family feelings throughout its pilot episode. Darkest nights, brightest hopes, histories exposed, and futures uncertain all weave themselves together as the host of characters live out experiences deeply human, painfully personal.

I hope you’ll keep reading over at Christ and Pop Culture!

How to Accept a Compliment (and Why You Should)

“You did a really great job on that project,” a boss tells you.

You respond:

“It wasn’t really that hard.”
“I could have done x, y, or z better.
“I wanted to finish it sooner than I did.”

“I love the way you welcome new members into our bible study/always sign up to take meals to hurting families/serve the church with your gifts,” says your friend.

You answer:

“I wish I could do more.”
“You’re the one who is always helping people!”
“Oh, well, I’m not all that talented so I have to step up where I can!”

“You look beautiful today!” your husband smiles.

You roll your eyes:

“Oh, well, must be the new haircut.”
“Finally got to take a shower this morning!”
“You’re crazy/you have to say that/oh, whatever babe.”

Do any of these sound familiar to you? They certainly do to me. I hear these reflexive echoes in my own heart, deflections spilling out of my mouth when a compliment is extended my way. I hear them, too, in conversations around me, especially among women. A gracious, thoughtful word is offered and is almost visibly swatted away, sent flying back into the air, surrounded by a swarm of stammering phrases attempting to negate the compliment.

Keep reading over at iBelieve.

TONIGHT ONLY: enter to win a copy of Shannan Martin’s “Falling Free”

screen-shot-2016-09-13-at-8-28-23-amHooray, Allison!!!

Friends who hoped to win, I can’t encourage you enough to hop over to and snag a copy. You’ll get some special goodies for preordering, and I can promise that as soon as this treasure of a book arrives in your mailbox, you’ll want to curl up and read it (Kleenex and a pen recommended but not required).

As a teaser, here’s one of my favorite quotes:

“All of us have been fundamentally shaped by the reality that when it comes to love, there is no limit. Love is never divided. It always, always multiplies. In this modern-day economy where resources eventually deplete and spending leads to deficits, we know we’ve landed safely at this secret place where, yet again, conventional wisdom bows to the ridiculous hopefulness of Immanuel.”

See what I mean? Stunning.

We’re having a little surprise giveaway here on Joy Woven Deep – this evening only! Shannan Martin’s book Falling Free will release on September 20th, and I’m thrilled to be giving away a copy to one of you lovely readers.


Shannan is honest, transparent, challenging, and so very alongside the reader. She is self aware about the fact that she is still in process as a Christian learning to engage the poor and marginalized, which helps the reader feel not alone in her potential lack of certainty about how to move forward. I’m a huge fan of this book and am certain it will minister not only to those who read it but those who are loved and served by inspired readers. If you don’t win, make your way over to Amazon and pre-order a copy!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

I’ll update this post, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter with the giveaway winner in the morning!

the friday features: september 9, 2016.

The Friday Features exist to fuel you with you sparks of joy and propel you toward the things that matter as you head into your weekend. If you’d like to submit an article to be included in the features, you can send me the link here.

For When the Foyer on Sunday Morning Gives You AnxietyIntrovert Hires Personal Representative To Engage In Church Small Talk by The Babylon Bee

For the Compelled, or Overwhelmed, by the Thought of Those Who are Incarcerated: Our Prison Ministries are Too Small by Quick to Listen Podcast + CT Editors for Christianity Today

For When You’re Wondering if It’s Childish to be Curious: Real Maturity, C.S. Lewis, and Imagination by Barnabas Piper for The Blazing Center

For the Anticipating: Prepositions, Autumn, and Waiting by Lore Ferguson Wilbert

For When Shopping Just Sounds HorribleDesigners refuse to make clothes to fit American women. It’s a disgrace. by Tim Gunn for The Washington Post

For the Ready (or Resistant) to Talk about Race: 20 Years by Propaganda as seen on The Blazing Center

For When You’re Hungry for Scripture: God’s Case Against Israel by Sharon Hodde Miller for She Reads Truth

Here’s to a restful weekend!

From Him | Through Him | To Him,
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all this time and sand.

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We bought a piano this week, an upright with well-loved keys and a bench that transports me back to hours of my childhood gone by, notes pecked out until they meant something. I’ve played the new-to-me piano just a few times so far, mostly with “help” from Owen and Gabriel, high notes shrill and low notes deep, tones bursting forth from their little hands on the keys, sounds that don’t belong but somehow, in their forming minds make mommy’s song all the more lovely. I’ve been playing from the songbook for Sara Groves‘ Conversations, an album that nestled its way into my soul long ago and carries the precious weight of seeming somehow both old and new to me each time I hear it, each time the lyrics fill my ears and spring from my mouth.

This Sunday, September 11th, will be the one year anniversary of the appointment at which we received Gabriel’s genetic test results. I think of that day as the day that we came to know that we don’t actually know much of anything.

It was the day when the shadowy uncertainty seemed to go dark altogether, the day when we sat in a clinic casting room for five hours, Gabriel, Jared, my sister Olivia, and me. There was another person there that day, a friend from childhood, Britt. Britt is a photographer, and she had asked if she could do some photography for our family, be a part of helping me tell our story. I, in what was either a moment of courage or insanity, invited her to join us at that appointment, the appointment that was a blank slate waiting to be filled.

Britt stood in that room with us, photographing moments nervous and moments sad, tucking her camera away when the weight in the room threatened to crush us. She gave us the treasure of her presence and the treasure of these images, the ones I’m finally sharing publicly, almost a year later. I guess I needed to hold them close for a while.


One of the songs in that Sara Groves songbook, the one I keep returning to, fingers finding their muscle memory, is called Painting Pictures of Egypt. I referenced it in a post I wrote at Christmastime, three months after the September appointment. The song explores the ever so common human experience of romanticizing the past, dusting off the picture frames of days long gone and willing ourselves to forget what was outside the camera’s scope.

We want to think of the past as having been easier than the present, right? We want to believe that the future will be simpler, clearer, lighter than the present. We’d like for this moment we’re in right now, really, to be it. Can’t this please be the hardest thing, and can I be finished with it now? Can I please go back to how things were?

I’ve been painting pictures of Egypt
Leaving out what it lacks
The future feels so hard
And I want to go back.

I felt that longing for the past, for the lack of now possessed knowledge, deep in my bones that September day a year ago, the day when I learned that my son’s bones and muscles and tendons and nerves were mysteries likely to linger unsolved. I can still feel the soft warmth of him leaned against my chest and stomach, his snores whispering in our ears as the doctors spoke to us. I can still feel my heart sinking low, mind frantically racing to keep up with the deluge, not drown beneath it. I can still feel my hands rubbing the little feet soon to be shrouded in plaster yet again.


The truth, or at least one portion of it, is that things are easier today than they were a year ago. In God’s infinite goodness, Gabriel is walking. It is not a walk that’s entirely typical, nor one that can take many steps without assistance from braces and shoes, but it is a walk, one that has become his primary mode of getting from one place to another. There are simply not enough words to illustrate our ecstasy and gratitude at this reality.

We didn’t know when the day would come. I suppose, deep in our hearts, we wondered if the day would come. In true Gabriel fashion it came unexpectedly, as though he had merely decided it was time. Gabriel slid down a playground slide, stood on the ground, and walked to Jared, the smile on his face equal parts glee and nonchalance.


Another portion of the truth is that it’s still hard. So many seemingly innocuous activities hold potential for pricks of heartache. Gabriel needs new shoes, so we shop around town to no avail; nothing is wide enough to fit over his orthotics. I turn to the internet, confidently entering the name of one of the largest online shoe retailers. At first, I simply type “toddler shoes” and over 6000 choices return. I quickly realize that I’ll waste my time looking for extra-wide pairs if I don’t refine my search. So I search again, “xw toddler shoes” this time. 15 hits.

Here’s the thing, I don’t think actually anyone needs over 6000 choices for a pair of shoes. But I don’t really know what to do with the fact that because we live in a culture defined by the normal, intentionally designed to serve the “typical” body, my son is immediately restricted in his decision making. He has to try harder, or, for now, we have to try harder for him. He can’t go to the store to try on shoes like his brother can. Maybe it doesn’t matter. Maybe it does. I think this reality says more about how our culture views disability than it does Gabriel’s actual physical limitations themselves, and someday I’m going to write about that. But right now I’m just thinking about the fact that Owen and Jared and I have our choice of color and style and width and brand and Gabriel doesn’t.


I’ve been painting pictures of Egypt
Leaving out what it lacks
And the future feels so hard
And I want to go back
But the places they used to fit me
Cannot hold the things I’ve learned
Those roads were closed off to me
While my back was turned


So, it’s been nearly a year, and so much has changed and everything is still the same. Time ticking, sand falling, Sara’s lyrics still echoing in my mind. Maybe my eyes see a little more clearly now, maybe I’m a bit more sure of God’s goodness. Maybe I’m just more aware that Who He is is so much larger and grandiose than I’ve ever given Him credit for. I have questions, and a few answers, but many more questions. And so much has changed and everything is still the same.

Gabriel is nearly two now, a little boy cheerful and resilient, orthotics wrapping his feet and calves all the way up to his knees, taunting my pettier side in the way they interfere with the outfits I want to dress him in or the plans we have to go to the pool or play in mud or dirt or sand. His shoe falls off for the 20th time in a day, always the right foot, and I know because I hear him say “uh-oh” from across the room, hear him drop to his knees to scoot over to me so I can put it back on.

We have a child with a disability and I am constantly wondering what that really means, if his body is really what makes his life harder or if it’s the fact that we have made the mainstream the thing that matters and anything that seems like a deviation must absorb the difficulty of difference. So I am wondering and pushing and questioning and mothering. And it is all different, and it is all the same.


I want to go back to before sometimes, before our life took on new layers and labels, before people asked me how I’m doing with that look in their eye, you know the one. But Sara’s lyrics call me out of that wistful state, keep me here, keep me sure of the merit of the present, the hope of the future.

I have a feeling there’s a great deal I’ve missed in the past year, so much I could have seen and grabbed hold of. But there’s a great deal that’s sunk in, too, a great deal that’s melted icy parts of me and is refashioning them into something softer.

A year gone by that feels like a decade.
A year in which the milk and honey found me some days and I longed for their sweetness on others.
A year engraved into my heart and a little boy enlarging that heart, convincing me that there’s a deeper joy I never knew, one that perhaps, on this side of eternity, is found only in the throes of pain, because the layers are being peeled back and I can actually feel down here in this place.

Sometimes I still want to go back to the easier, the simpler, the less nuanced and frankly, the more ignorant seasons of my life. I think about the lyrics, again, when those thoughts come up. And I think about the fact that God was faithful and He is faithful now. The past and future are not offering me space within them, only today extends an invitation. So we live today, the day so close to a year gone by.

If it comes too quick
I may not appreciate it
Is that the reason behind all this time and sand?
And if it comes too quick
I may not recognize it
Is that the reason behind all this time and sand?


the friday features: september 2, 2016.

The Friday Features exist to fuel you with you sparks of joy and propel you toward the things that matter as you head into your weekend. If you’d like to submit an article to be included in the features, you can send me the link here.

For When You’re Feeling A Little Helicopter Mom-ish: Family Christian Introduces New Protective Christian Bubble™ For Children by The Babylon Bee

For the Swamped by Their Schedules: Making Peace with Time by Me for The Influence Network

For When You’re Mourning, Soaring, or Singing: Raw Grief and Real Hope in Ingrid Michaelson’s It Doesn’t Have To Make Sense by Val Dunham for Christ and Pop Culture

For the Grownups Trying to Understand Teen Life in 2016: How Instagram Opened a Ruthless New Chapter in the Teen Photo Wars by Robinson Meyer for The Atlantic

For When You Want to Make Who You Are All about You: Why “That’s Just My Personality” is No Excuse for a Christian by Me for iBelieve

For the People Who Have Hurt Others, and Wonder if They Have a Place: A Post for The Fallen & The Shamed :: There’s Room at Our Table for You. by Brittany Salmon

For When You’re Pondering What Liberty Really Is: We Are Free Indeed by Cara Meredith for Gifted for Leadership (Christianity Today)

Here’s to a restful weekend!

From Him | Through Him | To Him,
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Why “That’s Just My Personality” is No Excuse for a Christian

Hi, I’m Abby. I’m a Myers-Briggs INTP, and an Enneagram 5 with a 4 wing. What does that mean, you ask? It means, among other things, that I really like to be alone. It also means that I become borderline obsessed with new ideas on a regular basis, thinking that I’ll fuel their fire until kingdom come, only to find that after a few months, I’m either dropping what I once praised or I’m applying tremendous grit in order to stay committed. These letters and numbers mean that I have an insatiable curiosity coupled with a lion-like ferocity for determining that which is right and true. Often, I’d rather get to the bottom of an issue or conflict than think about the affect my digging and prodding may have on those involved.

So, what I’m saying is, I’m clearly super enjoyable to be around at all times. And if you think I’m not, well, what do you want me to say? It’s just my personality!

Just kidding, kind of. It is my personality to forge past your feelings on my quest for the facts. It is my personality to skip gatherings in order to be in my room with a book. It is my personality to add people, their needs, and my involvement in their lives into my world only when it fits into the paradigms I prefer.

All of that is true. My natural God-given wiring, when swirled together with my sinful, fleshly desires, produces all of the above. It’s true, indeed. But it is not ultimate.

Keep reading at iBelieve.

Christians, we need to stop social shaming our children. 

We interrupt our regularly scheduled Friday Features to bring you a piece I wrote for iBelieve this week, in which I explain why I think the trend of sharing our children’s more embarrassing or annoyance-inducing moments online is a dangerous one, and share some helpful tips for how we can build a legacy of trust with our children through how we talk about them on social media. 

There’s a theme I’ve noticed recently as I’ve scrolled through Facebook (other than the election, I mean). Maybe it’s the fact that it’s the near end of summertime and parents are exhausted from seemingly eternal days with their children surrounding them. Maybe it’s the omnipresent nature of social media, beckoning us to write, respond, engage, and share. Maybe it’s a quest for community. Whatever it is, though, it’s concerning, and little discussed, though the ramifications are potentially damaging to some of the relationships in our lives that matter the very most.

What I’m seeing, what I’m wondering about, is this: why are parents sharing their children’s moments of shame on the Internet?

I can hear the backlash now, so I’m going to address it. I know that some of you are thinking, “Are you kidding me? All I see on my feed are pictures of perfectly dressed children sweetly smiling while playing with one toy for a sustained period of time until their sibling asks for it and they gladly hand it over.” I get it. I see them too, those pictures of the children of Pleasantville.

Continued reading at iBelieve

the friday features: august 5, 2016.

The Friday Features exist to fuel you with you sparks of joy and propel you toward the things that matter as you head into your weekend. If you’d like to submit an article to be included in the features, you can send me the link here.

For When You’re Feeling A Little too Fabulous and/or A Little Snarky: Woman Returns From Conference Deeply Convicted Of How Awesome She Is by The Babylon Bee

For the Pastors, the Curious, and Those Who Like Right Answers: An Unschooled (and Uncreative) Church by Barnabas Piper for The Blazing Center

For When You See the Words “White Privilege” on Facebook: 3 Reasons Why Christians Should Talk about Race on Social Media by Me for iBelieve

For the Politically Engaged or Exhausted: The Campaign for Character by Sharon Hodde Miller

For When You’re Longing for Eternity: The Lord’s Supper Is a Rehearsal Dinner by Derek Rishmawy for The Local Church (Christianity Today)

For The Sinners & the Singers: Let’s Sing the Beauty of Confession by Sandra McCracken for The Gospel Coalition

For When You’re Seeking Community (and/or Loving Literary Fiction): A Common Quest: Searching for Belonging in Emma Cline’s The Girls by Me for Christ and Pop Culture

Here’s to a restful weekend!

From Him | Through Him | To Him,
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A Common Quest

***This article contains major spoilers for Emma Cline’s The Girls. ***

“I looked up because of the laughter, and kept looking because of the girls.”

So begins Emma Cline’s recently released debut novel. As eerie as it is personal, as unsettling as it is relatable, The Girls tells the story of a woman, Evie, a 60-something who is temporarily staying in the home of an acquaintance. In the middle of the night, intruders, who turn out to be the son and son’s girlfriend of the homeowner, interrupt Evie’s sleep. Through their questions, Evie recalls the dark memories knocking at the door of her mind. The memories are harrowing, prompting questions that she does not want to answer: who she is, what she wants, and finally, if she ever found what she was looking for.

During a summer in the late 1960s, Evie is fourteen, clinging to her friendships, pining over boys. Her best friend, Connie, provides a seemingly safe place amidst the turmoil of Evie’s parents’ divorce and the jarring evolution of her mother from a domestic homebody to a serial dater, hardly aware of her daughter’s whereabouts, much less her feelings. Evie is stammering and searching; she is looking for love, any kind at all. Then, one day, she sees the girls, the ones who prompted her with their laughter and kept her gaze with their mystery.

Keep reading at Christ and Pop Culture