How to Be Faithful and Focused in the Face of the World’s Pain

One of my first memories of my freshman year of college is the activities fair that was held in the student center. I attended a large, state university with tens of thousands of students, and hundreds of organizations had booths set up at the fair, inviting students to come and join their ranks. Despite having a relatively good idea of the types of things I’d like to be involved in, I was completely overwhelmed. There were so many good and meaningful things to choose from, and I struggled to know how to decide.

I’d like to say that I grew out of the feeling that there are so many things worth my time and effort that I may need to divide myself in two. But the fact is, as I’ve grown older, while I’ve found deeper passions and grown roots that I did not have had as a young adult, I’ve also discovered so many more possibilities. While I’ve learned more about myself and my specific calling in life, I’ve also learned about so much more of the world, so much more of pain and need, and I find myself wanting to step up and engage however I can.

So Much Pain in the World = Overwhelmed Hearts

I have a hunch that I’m not alone in this. Posts on social media these days seem to rotate between telling one another what we should or should not care about, and telling each other that we’re tired of being told what we should or should not care about. There is no shortage of opportunities to pursue personal development, to become a better parent, spouse, or friend, to learn a new skill, to read a new opinion, or to engage a new issue. As Christians, we ought to desire to live holistic lives that are not merely driven by love of self, nor by work, nor by play, but by worship and fullness and growth spiritually, mentally, physically, and emotionally.

Keep reading over at iBelieve.

Giveaway: Reclaiming Hope by Michael Wear

UPDATE: Winners announced below! If you weren’t one of the lucky few, I encourage you to pinch your pennies and order a copy of Reclaiming Hope here.
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I’m delighted to have the opportunity to give away not one, not two, but THREE copies of a newly released book that I could not put down, despite the fact that midnight had ticked by far too long ago. Reclaiming Hope: Lessons Learned in the Obama White House about the Future of Faith in America by Michael Wear is not to be missed, and I can’t wait to get it into your hands.

This book could not have come at a better time, friends. It’s a passionate call to hope, perspective, and civic engagement in all of its ups and downs. Joyful, prescient, story-driven, and honest, this treasure of a book lives up to its title in every way. Wear was one of the youngest-ever White House staffers, serving in the Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships during Obama’s first administration and later directing faith outreach for the 2012 Obama campaign. Wear’s years of experience and passion for neighbor love come together beautifully, weaving narrative with thoughtful commentary on faith, politics, and patriotism.

You can enter here; the giveaway will be open till Friday at midnight!

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Seeking Shalom: Racial Reconciliation (I Have an Announcement!)

Hi Friends! Whether you’re a regular reader of Joy Woven Deep or you’re making your way over from the Shalom Sistas’ Hangout, I’m so glad you’re here. Welcome!

My first memory of chatting with someone online whom I did not know “in real life” was on AOL. She was another young teenage girl, just like me. I told my mom about it, and when she reminded me that our family had a rule against chat rooms, I emphatically told her I hadn’t broken the rule because it wasn’t a chat room, it was a one-on-one conversation.

This story illustrates two things that, amazingly, have relevance to what I have to tell you today, approximately 16 years later:

  1. I’ve long felt that true friendships could be formed via the Internet.
  2. I like to be subversive. Or, perhaps more accurately, I have a bit of a rebellious streak that gets a thrill out of intertwining relationship with resistance.

Around a year ago, a “real life” friend tagged another friend and me in a Facebook post by Osheta Moore. We began messaging and engaging with each other’s content online, primarily on topics of racial reconciliation. A few months later, Osheta graciously invited me to be a guest on her podcastShalom in the City, and our friendship continued to develop over Voxer and Facebook.

And then, one night while Jared was at work and I was bathing two wild and wriggling little boys, my phone announced a new Vox message from Osheta, asking if I would be willing to be a monthly co-host on Shalom in the City.

The premise for our episodes? A black woman and a white woman talk about racial reconciliation.

My response? “I should say I need to pray about it, so, I’ll pray about it, but really this is already an unforeseen answer to some of the deepest prayers of my heart. I’m saying yes.”

And so, my friends, I VERY ENTHUSIASTICALLY announce to you that I now have the honor of being a co-host of Shalom in the City. This new format will hit the podcast in March, and will also include the lovely Jerusalem Greer discussing shalom in our homes and communities, and the wonderful Cara Meredith continuing to co-host the Shalom Sistas’ Book Club.

For the first few months of this new format, the overarching theme of the podcast will be Hopeful Resistance. Our desire is to discuss ideas, share stories, and frame conversations in a way that will equip listeners to resist the division, defensiveness, and despair that abounds in our broken world.

For the episodes I’ll be co-hosting, my prayer is that we will, by God’s grace, model a conversation that is defined by charity, truth seeking, active listening, and testifying to this fact: Jesus has torn down the wall of hostility, making two groups one,* and we far too often have bricks in our hands, rebuilding barriers when He has called us into open spaces.

Osheta and I will talk about our personal experiences with racial reconciliation efforts, discuss news/current events, and break down buzzwords that seem to polarize conversations before they even get started. We’ll also be inviting you to submit questions or topics for us to discuss, and oh how I hope you will. This monthly hour exists entirely to be a gift to you, something that does not use its time inside your earbuds to pull you out of your immediate surroundings but to propel you deeper into them.

((You can listen here to Osheta as she introduces the new format and shares more of her vision for living wholeheartedly in a brokenhearted world.))

Don’t want to miss an episode? Subscribe to the podcast here. And join us over in the Shalom Sistas’ Hangout, where we’ll be discussing what it looks like to be peacemakers in our homes, communities, reading lives, cross-racial relationships, and more.

May 2017 be a year that we ask God, ourselves, each other, what peace really means, and how to go about making it together.

*Ephesians 2:14

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”

UPDATE – WE HAVE A WINNER!
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 fallingfreebook.com/preorder 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.

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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!

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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.

 


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.


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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.


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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.


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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.


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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


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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.


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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?


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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.