Should I Feel God’s Presence in My Life?  

If you grew up evangelical, it’s likely you experienced the phenomenon known as the “camp high.” This experience would occur when your youth group or church made its way to a retreat center, or perhaps your parents sent you off to a summer camp. A few days into the week, when you were tired, hadn’t stopped sweating in 96 hours, and were certain that the friends by your side would be your best buds forever, the evening program would happen. A campfire, perhaps, or a stirring message from a stage, and before you knew it, every emotion you’d ever known was rising up within you, a symphony of feelings that you were sure could only mean one thing—this is what it feels like to be near God.

I have many memories associated with this kind of experience, most of them occurring at camps or retreats or on mission trips, moments sweet and safe and removed from the every day normalcy of life. Sometimes I would access those emotions in a smaller dose on Wednesday nights at youth group, or during a Sunday morning service, a certain song or message conjuring up a fiery commitment to God and His ways. How could I want anything else?, I would think. Surely, if He can make me feel this way, He must be the One to follow.

While experiences like this were peppered throughout my teenage years, when college and young adulthood arrived, they seemed to slip away quietly. I wondered, worried even, if I was doing something wrong when I could no longer access the emotional highs I had once known and associated with God’s goodness and presence. As I made my first decisions of adulthood—a degree plan, marriage, my first job, two summers on the mission field—I wondered where God was. I was quite sure factually, logically, rationally, that He was pleased with the road I was walking. But emotionally, I wrestled. Why couldn’t I feel Him? And what did it mean that I couldn’t?

Keep reading at iBelieve.

Supporting Foster and Adoptive Families

Three years ago, my husband and I earned our foster care license. Due to a series of life circumstances beyond our control, we were only able to use our license to offer respite care (weekend long stints of caring for foster children) twice, and babysit a few other times. My heart was broken by our inability to maintain our license, even as I knew God was guiding us to release it. A question emerged in a present, painful way in my heart and mind: is there a legitimate option for us to engage the local foster care and adoption community if we cannot do so through actually fostering or adopting? Do people mean it when they say that there is, or is the option binary—foster/adopt or don’t?

As God is so faithful to do, “He brought me out into a broad place” (Psalm 18:19), revealing to me that not only were there ways to be actively involved in the lives of foster and adoptive families and children, but that they were plentiful. I became convinced that I was invited to join Him in His work of “placing the lonely in families” (Psalm 68:6), which I have written about here.

I’ve recently spoken with several women who, like I did, have questions about engaging the foster care and adoption community. I’m delighted to share their questions, along with answers and insight from foster and adoptive families and an adult adoptee, with you today. As you read, I encourage you to pick one step to take and consider letting a friend or two know about it. Ask if they’d be willing to have you share with them what you learned and discuss possibilities for acting on it.

Keep reading at The Influence Network

How to Respond in Times of Crisis

I sat in my favorite corner of our couch, knees pulled up to my chest. A few close friends were scattered around the room, eyes soft, questions gentle. We had been at an event together earlier that evening where words were spoken that caused a part of my heart to fracture. When I left the event as soon as possible, these women called and offered to come, to sit and listen or let silence linger. We did some of both.

Mostly, I rambled, at least that’s how I remember it. I remember tears and I remember closing my eyes as I spoke sentences of which I was embarrassed of, words that made me feel faithless and weak. But most of all, I remember the tenderness of the women gathered in that room, their compassionate strength that bore the weight of my sadness and anger.

When I was in crisis, the physical presence, help, and listening ear of others was critical. Never have I been so aware of the beauty of the body of Christ as I have been when I was dependent upon others to care for me, to support my family, and to pray and believe for me when I was losing my grip on the ability to do so for myself.

When crisis comes, many of us determine to buckle down, to believe that grit and fortitude will be enough to weather the storm. But what this often can mean is that we want to be strong, though Scripture tells us that God’s grace is made perfect in our weakness. We do not want to inconvenience others, though Scripture tells us to bear one another’s burdens. We want to think of crises as linear—as having a beginning, middle, and end, life returning to a happy “normal” after the fact–though Scripture tells us that we will have trouble in this world until Christ’s return.

Keep reading at iBelieve.

On Hopeful Resistance

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all,

And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.

I’ve heard it in the chillest land,
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.
~ Emily Dickinson

I am not sure that I have ever before read a poem that I adore so fully and disagree with so heartily all at once. I am not sure if that is even an entirely possible state of mind, but it certainly seems to be the one I am in as I read Dickinson’s rhythmic words.

I did not used to feel this way about this poem. Not long ago, I found it to be only beautiful, merely soothing, simply grace. “The thing with feathers” — what a gentle, calming thought. The idea that hope could swoop down, land within me, beat its little wings and fill me with hope, why would I want to do anything but wrap my arms around that idea, embrace it wholeheartedly, maybe set up a few directional signs for the little hope-bird so it would arrive faster? Come to me, hope. Fill me up.

While I haven’t abandoned this little imaginative figment entirely, I no longer find it to be enough. I never did, I suppose, since I am one who believes her ultimate hope is in Christ, that He is the only hope in life and death. But I did find that repeating those little mantras to myself, words of Scripture, of creeds, even of Dickinson, was enough to reinvigorate the little bird’s wings, sending him flapping back into my presence, into my soul.

Keep reading at Upwrite Magazine.

Hope in My Earbuds: A Tribute to the Gilmore Guys

Say what you will about Twitter (and we could all say plenty), but I’ll tell you this: it served as the launching point for one of my favorite little bits of happiness over the course of the past year. The bit of happiness wasn’t, however, a Twitter account, a meme, or a GIF (though each of those could serve as runners up). Rather, it was a podcast.

Twitter was the meeting place for Kevin Porter and Demi Adejuyigbe, twentysomethings in Los Angeles, California, who half-jokingly agreed to chat their way through the television program Gilmore Girls, record their ramblings, and broadcast them for whoever may decide to listen. The product of their Twitter-baked plan was Gilmore Guys, a podcast which lasted for three-and-a-half years, ending earlier this summer after rising to #39 of all podcasts on iTunes during its peak of popularity.

Full of silliness, special guests, and skilled analysis made possible by their own budding careers in LA, Porter and Adejuyigbe found the x-factor that so many long to find in creative work—they invited people into a place that felt like home. While their house was built on an existing foundation (Gilmore Girls), the walls and rooms were all their own. And before we, the fans, knew it, their “home” was one of our favorite places to drop by each week. We’d peer around the corners to see who else was there, smile, and stay awhile. In the beginning, we came for the Girls, but in no time at all, we looked up and realized we were staying for the Guys.

Keep reading at Christ and Pop Culture.

*Photo Credit: Gilmore Guys

I Smile at the Bruises

I smile at the bruises
up and down my legs
dull brown and tender.

You came from inside of me
they lifted you up, out, above
until your face rose above the curtain
and I saw the softness of your cheeks
the person of you.

They removed your body from mine
your legs white, feet turned inward
casts, braces, surgeries.
They stitched me back together
my heart and body pressed and pulled
to see your face
to keep you inside me forever

Keep reading at Fathom Mag.

Parenting as Narrating

“Are those for Gabe?” Owen asks. He is four, tall, freckled, inquisitive, looking over my shoulder at the computer screen. He sees me perusing car seats, and is curious if they are for his little brother. I stumble around internally, searching my brain for the right mixture of words. “No. You know how our family has everything we need, and even so many things we want? Not all families have that. Mommy gets to help those families get what they need.”

Life is short, though I keep this from my children.
Life is short, and I’ve shortened mine
in a thousand delicious, ill-advised ways,
a thousand deliciously ill-advised ways
I’ll keep from my children. The world is at least
fifty percent terrible, and that’s a conservative
estimate, though I keep this from my children.
For every bird there is a stone thrown at a bird.
For every loved child, a child broken, bagged,
sunk in a lake. Life is short and the world
is at least half terrible, and for every kind
stranger, there is one who would break you,
though I keep this from my children. I am trying
to sell them the world. Any decent realtor,
walking you through a real shithole, chirps on
about good bones: This place could be beautiful,
right? You could make this place beautiful.
“Good Bones”
Maggie Smith

He is perplexed but accepts the answer, and I am simultaneously saddened and relieved. He knows now that not all families are able to buy what they need. He has some sort of idea, now, that when Mommy is receiving UPS packages, they are filled with items that others in the community have helped pay for, so that a foster family has a stroller, or a family at risk for children being removed has enough mattresses. He knows, now, that these things do not appear magically, or without effort.

I should feel good about this teachable moment. Maybe I do, a little bit. Mostly, I feel sad, I feel the loss of his innocence. I feel the weight of narrating the story of life to my child, and the fact that the story is often tragic.

For every child loved, a child broken, bagged, sunk in a lake.

Keep reading at Fathom Mag.

On Racial Reconciliation

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.
The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.
All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself
and gave us the ministry of reconciliation.
2 Corinthians 5:17-18

I’ve heard these verses preached dozens of times in my life, years upon years of sermons about the miraculous work of Christ making a way for us to be united with Him, the old passing away, the new coming. It is entirely possible, perhaps even likely, that in those dozens of sermons, words were preached about the glorious extension of that uniting with Christ—the joy of being united to other image bearers, the co-reconciled. Whether I have heard these verses taught that way or not, I can’t say, but I know that in the past few years they have taken on entirely new meaning to me as I have begun to explore the world of racial justice, and, fittingly, racial reconciliation.

My life, by virtue of skin color, economic status, educational opportunities, and a host of other things has been filled with what I now see as a privilege that is mine to acknowledge, harness, and leverage as I seek to model my life after Christ’s reconciliatory work. And “with great privilege comes great responsibility.”

Keep reading at The Influence Network.

Why “Small” Sins are So Dangerous

I am thirteen years old, sitting in a church pew with a friend and our youth pastor who has recently proposed to his girlfriend. My friend and I are gushing over the fairytale we imagine their romance to be. “Why don’t you have a ring, though?” my friend asks. I am horrified. Of course he doesn’t have a ring. That’s not how engagement works. How could she possibly ask such a silly question? What is wrong with her?

I am seventeen years old, riding in the back of a friend’s car. There are four of us together, maybe five. The details are vague now, where we are going, what we are doing, who has crushes on whom, but one feeling and one interaction are crystal clear. A friend casually, comfortably asks a question about something she does not understand, admitting her ignorance on an unimportant topic. My heart rate skyrockets. Doesn’t she know that not knowing is humiliating? Does she not feel the shift in the universe that I do when uncertainty is made public? What is wrong with her?

I am twenty-three years old, taking notes in a meeting at work. Afterwards, a co-worker comes over to my desk to talk to me about the discussion. She interprets something our boss had stated and I am shocked. I heard nothing of the sort. She turns out to be right, and I am internally knocked off-kilter. My sense of self-worth plummets; I am defensive and guarded for the rest of the day. How could I have sat in the same room and misunderstood the conversation? What is wrong with me?

It’s likely that none of these stories have led you to think, “Well, Abby, you were sinning. That’s what’s wrong with you.” After all, I was not actively intending to hurt anyone in any of these situations. In fact, in the first two, I wanted to protect my friends, or at least that’s what I told myself.

Keeping reading at iBelieve

New Podcast Episode: Hopefully Resisting Despair in the Face of Racial Tragedies

The fourth episode of My Sista’s Keeper: Shalom in the City’s Monthly Conversation on Race & Unity is available now.

On this episode of My Sistas’ Keeper, Osheta and I discuss how to hopefully resist the spirit of despair when talking about race, specifically on social media. We share our honest, raw emotions about the Philando Castile verdict and the killing of Charleena Lyles. We also discuss Scripture about despair and respond to listener questions about to respond to race-related tragedies and police brutality:

How should Shalom Sistas talk to their children, students, etc., about these events?

What should a Shalom Sista do if her church is silent in the face of injustice?

How can white Shalom Sistas be allies right now?

Is there a way for Shalom Sistas to engage with their local police departments to talk about racial profiling, etc.?

How can Shalom Sistas leverage whatever platform they have (blog, community office, leadership position, ministry, relationships) to shed light on these tragedies and say what needs to be said?

What are you longing to hear spoken or named–what do you think God is longing to hear spoken or named from pulpits?

We mention:

We want to know what you think about this episode and what this conversation has you thinking about: Come join us on Facebook at the Shalom Sistas’ Hangout and share your thoughts!

Want more Shalom in your life? 

Subscribe to the podcast via the Podcasts App, iTunes, Stitcher, or listen here.

You can join the Shalom in the City conversation over in our Shalom Sista’s Hangout, as well as on Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest. Hope to see you in some of these Shalom Spaces!